Listening Effectively

In my humble opinion, about 85% of the people I deal with don’t really listen to me. These individuals usually employ one or more of the following five listening styles that are not really listening:

1. Ignoring – do not bother to listen at all

2. Pretending – going through the motions without trying to understand

3. Selective listening – only hearing parts of what is said (what they want to hear)

4. Attentive listening – only hearing the words and missing the feeling behind the words

5. Autobiographical listening – a head filled with thoughts of themselves, their concerns, their stories.

If you are in the service industry or a sales person, you can’t afford NOT to listen! Here is another listening style: one that is more likely to lead to a satisfying interaction with the customer/client – listening generously.

Listening generously means putting aside your need to be understood in favour of trying to understand the customer. It means listening with empathy, listening to both the words and the feelings behind them. Empathy means understanding and acknowledging the emotions of another person.

Listening generously is important to service – it’s the only way to get the information you need to understand the customer’s needs and expectations. It offers the customer the fullest opportunity to be heard and understood. When I, as a customer, feel understood and see you acting consistent with my expectations, then I’m satisfied.

Listening generously takes more than a little skill. It takes commitment to hear and to understand what the other person has to say. Here are key skills to listen generously:

1. Restate the content. Simply, repeat back the words you hear. This is the least effective, but still necessary skill. It is useful because it allows the other person to continue speaking and it requires you to pay attention.

2. Paraphrase. Restate the content in your words. When you paraphrase, the speaker is encouraged to keep speaking and does so with some confidence that you understand what is being said. If you didn’t understand, there is an opportunity for the speaker to explain.

3. Reflect the feeling. Tell the speaker the feeling you hear in their words. For example, “It sounds like you are upset with what has happened.” An appropriate reflection gives the person a real sense of your commitment to listening. They will, in turn, be more committed to explaining their perspective to you.

4. Ask an open, positive question. You will need to ask questions to clearly determine what the customer needs and expects. Open questions will get you more than a “yes” or “no” answer, and feel less like an interrogation to the customer. Your questions should be positive, with no implied disrespect for the other person.

To be a good listener requires commitment and practice. However, when you do become a good listener, you will have a competitive advantage. Customers will seek you out and will want to do repeat business with you. This is because you are one of the few people they know that actually listens to them!