Communication is the lifeblood of every relationship. As a business owner, it’s imperative that you focus on the long-term relationship between you and your customers.
Your goal should be to communicate in a way that, over time, will create an emotional bond between you and your customers so that they remain loyal to you and become your advocates.
Talking is the natural way to do business. Writing is great for keeping records and putting down details, but talk generates ideas.”
~T. Boone Pickens
Master the Art of Listening
Listening is perhaps the most important communication skill every business owner must master. If you find it challenging to master the art of listening in your business, find someone in your organization who is good at listening, and delegate the responsibility to communicate with your customers. It’s that important.
The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it
has taken place.
–George Bernard Shaw
A number of challenges will come up when you attempt to master the art of listening.
Challenge #1: Research indicates that we hear and think much faster than most people speak.
“Another reason for poor listening skills is that you and I can think faster than someone else can speak. Most of us speak at a rate of about 125 words per minute. However, we have the mental capacity to understand someone speaking at 400 words per minute (if that were possible). This difference between speaking speed and thought speed means that when we listen to the average speaker, we’re using only 25 percent of our mental capacity. We still have 75 percent to do something else with. So, our minds will wander.”
The result of this time difference is that you can easily allow your mind to wander. As your mind wanders away from listening intently, the communication becomes an illusion as George Bernard Shaw alluded to in his quote above.
Challenge #2: We often enter into a communication event, whether it’s face to face, over the telephone, or through various online modalities, with pre-conceived thoughts and perceptions. These can create an invisible wall so that you fail to hear what your customer is really saying.
Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel
about what you know.
We stop listening when we start thinking of comments we want to make or questions we want to ask. If these thoughts arise, quickly jot them down on a notepad and come back to them when the speaker stops talking. Remember that you do not only hear through the spoken word. A lot of times the real issues are revealed through body language and listening for what is not said.
Challenge #3: Let your customer know you’re tuned into them.
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and you could tell their mind was elsewhere? In fact, their body language conveyed their lack of interest in what you were saying. How did that make you feel? How do you think your customer would feel if your body language suggested a lack of interest in their complaint or opinion?
People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.
To be able to address an issue and arrive at a reasonable outcome, you must understand fully what the other party says, the way it’s said, the motivation behind it, and the speaker’s feelings.
3 Ways to Master the Art of Listening
- Ask Questions: Ask questions to clarify points and to make sure that you and your customer have a similar understanding of the issue. Include open-ended questions that allow for more discussion, rather than closed questions where the answers could be, Yes or No.
- Demonstrate empathy: Even if you do not agree with the sentiments expressed, you can convey to your customer that you understand their point of view.
- Make notes: Your memory can become clouded by the barriers we spoke of earlier. Thus, it’s critical that you take good notes during the conversation. This is especially important if you now have to give the information to another person for them to take action. Your notes are more likely to convey what was actually said during the conversation.
When to Ask Certain Types of Questions: Earlier the point was made that open-ended questions allow for more discussion; whereas, closed questions usually limit answers.
There are times when it’s appropriate to ask each type of question for a different result.
Open questions are well suited for when you want to create a conversation or need in-depth information. These are questions that start with: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. These questions are often more appropriate in business conversations because they invite the other speaker to expand and explain fully. There’s still another type of open question that can lead to great outcomes. It’s the problem-solving question. When you ask your customer this type of question, he or she feels included in achieving the solution or arriving at the results. Not only does this make your customer feel important, it helps to offset any anxiety and concern they may be having over a specific issue. Here is an example of a problem-solving question: ‘What should we do to prevent this problem from happening next time?’
That type of question leads to action.
Closed questions are more appropriate when you want facts. They give you a quick answer or confirmation. A closed question allows you to maintain control of the conversation. Further, an open question that is followed by a closed question allows you to confirm what you’ve heard. For example, you can ask a summary question and the individual to whom you’re speaking will either confirm or disagree. The goal is to ensure that there is a clear understanding between both parties.
Our discussion would not be complete if I did not include a warning reminder. While listening is an art, the way you phrase questions is an art that has to be learned and mastered as well. In order to communicate effectively, your questions have to be phrased in a way that does not put your customer or any other person in your network on the defensive. They have to be phrased in a way that genuinely conveys interest and caring rather than being perceived as confrontational.
Since good communication is essential to building strong relationships with your customers, it makes sense to take prompt action to master the art of listening and get everyone in the organization on board with using it effectively to increase their communication and relationship-building skills.
Thank you for reading.