The Art of Listening…and How to do it Right!

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People are creatures of habit. Aren’t we?

How true would it be for me to say we all have a little list we maintain in our head? A little list of rules that we choose to live our life by?

This list is created automatically and often we don’t even know we are doing it until one day when we realize there are a dozen rules on the list.

Today, I share with you one of my personal rules. This rule is a core concept and one I feel is key to success. Better yet, it can be applied in any business, no matter what your line of work is.

I refer to this rule as “Just Listen.”

Listening is one of the most powerful things a person can do and it takes no effort at all.  This is one of the freebies we get in life and so often it goes ignored or gets abused. I call your attention today to this rule as I feel it is one thing we can all do just a little bit more in life.

Think about it! The phone rings and it’s a friend on the line. Your friend begins telling you about the worst day they just had. You are compelled to say something, after all, they are your friend and they picked you to call. We are so eager to interject with our own experiences we start solving problems we do not fully comprehend.

It is natural for us to want to solve problems and assist others, but I say we should take a breath, step back and just listen. Realize not everything needs a solution right away. So many times I have listened and it was not until the end of the conversation or even a few days later, that which I perceived to be a problem ended up resolving itself without interaction from me.

When I worked in car sales, I was taught to “qualify people.” By qualify, I mean I said to myself what kind of car is this person looking for? What kind of car does this person really need? What kind of car can this person afford to buy? Is this person planning to finance or put any cash down? Do they have a trade-in? And so on.

Not all of this can be done quickly, but when meeting someone for the first time when they’ve approached you, all you can do is listen. They will tell you what they want you to hear.

This actually brings me to my next point: Realize that people have pride and while they might be sharing information with you, there are likely many more details to be understood and for whatever reason, that person may not be sharing those details with you. Pride might be one of the reasons, but time can also be a factor. They simply might be putting themselves under a time constraint or genuinely don’t have time to give out all the details.

If they are truly coming to you to solve their problem, force them to make the time to talk to you. Solving problems without details means taking a risk and risks can lead to issues.

When I worked for customer support, I strived to be one of the top call takers on the floor. But being a call taker does not mean taking the most calls, it means resolving calls with quality. If you can answer the call correctly the first time and it prevents the caller from having to call back, then that is a quality call.

The only way to answer a call correctly is to understand exactly what the customer needs even though they themselves might not know what they want. There is an art form that is created when a person is able to know what someone needs when they are having trouble articulating their problem or telling you what they want and you realizing what they want might be not what they need.  

When engaging in conversation, there are fundamental things that should be done. In fact, do not enter a conversation without doing these things unless you want the person you are talking to, to think you are inconsiderate, rude or selfish.

Here are a few tips about the correct way to listen to someone:

  • If you are in person, maintain eye contact with the person you are listening to. It is very important to see what their eyes are doing and watch their body language. If a person is hiding something they will likely want to look away from you while they are talking to you and their body will appear nervous or removed from the discussion.  It is also a sign of respect to look at the person that is talking to you. Give this person your fair and undivided attention. Glances away are acceptable but watch out for the intimidating stare.
  • It is also considerate to put down any device you may have in your hands that might distract you from listening. If you are truly too busy to be bothered at that moment, then it is OK to ask the person to come back or call again later.  Propose a time for them to call back if you can. This action will let the person know that you really care about what they have to say.  
  • If you suspect they might have something small and quick that they need clarified, you should ask them and suggest a call back if you determine what they are asking will take a lengthy amount of time to answer.
  • If you are listening to someone over the phone, go into a quiet room where you can hear what the person is telling you. This also moves you into an area where you can focus on the phone call and not whatever was around you at the time when the call came in. Unless you are looking something up for the caller on the computer, do not see this phone call as an open opportunity for you to additionally check your email or do other tasks. Give the person on the other end your full and complete attention. Besides, it’s what you would expect too, right?
  • Have you ever been on a phone call and you were able to tell that the person on the other line was clearly just “yessing” you?  More than likely that person was doing something else. Their attention was divided and you were able to pick up on it without even being in the same room as that person.  

What tips do you have about the art of listening? How does it make you feel when the person you are talking to is not listening?  Have a story about a time when you stepped back and listened and achieved a positive result? Share your response in the comments below or connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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