I was chatting with the owner of a talent agency a while back. She was asking me questions about
using social media for marketing, and telling me about the update in progress on her website. To put it politely, her site’s redesign wasn’t going well.
My friend had asked the web development company she’d hired for some specific things regarding design and functionality of the site. She had asked for a shopping cart so visitors could select actors and actresses they were interested in as they went through demos, rather than having to wait until the end and try to remember who they had liked. The new site didn’t include the shopping cart. She had asked for a certain look and feel. The designer did something completely different.
To say the least, my friend was quite frustrated. She had spent a significant amount of time with the web company early on explaining what she wanted. Bottom line, they had simply not listened. Bottom-bottom line, they would most definitely NOT be receiving any future work from her, nor endorsements to any of the hundreds of companies she works with on a regular basis.
The art of listening is one that many people take for granted, and many of us are guilty of being less than stellar listeners at one time or another. We are so busy posing our next question, constructing a clever comment, or, gasp, peeking at that new message that just binged into our phone, that we lose the thread of conversational meaning.
So, how can we be better listeners?
Ditch distractions. Put the phone away, maintain eye contact (as much as is comfortable), and close the computer unless you are actively using it together.
Focus. Just hearing the words coming out of the other person’s mouth is not active listening. You really need to attend to what they are saying to understand their point.
Clarify. Ask follow up questions and restate key points to make sure you have the same understanding as the person you are conversing with.
Record the conversation. Always ask permission first, but, if they agree, recording the conversation, especially if you are on a fact finding mission with a new client, leaves you free to listen closely and ask those all important follow up questions. If you can’t record the full conversation, at least take notes. It may slow things down a bit, but jotting down key points will help your recall later – and it shows you seriously want to understand their needs.
Be open. Don’t immediately shut down someone else’s ideas. Hear them out. You’ll have a chance later to ask questions and determine if you can help improve or refine their idea so it is something you can both work with.
Recap. At the end of the conversation do a quick verbal recap (you can use your notes if you created any) to firm up main points from the conversation as well as what action(s) need to be taken next and who will be expected to do what.
Whether it’s in a personal relationship or a business context, everybody wants an attentive audience. Listening is an art we can all practice, with a little work.