LISTEN UP: Listening well matters in career and business (and everywhere else in life)

Listening makes a big difference in business and social interactionsThe Boston Sunday Globe BostonWorks section regularly features The Corporate Curmudgeon, a column by Dale Dauten. Today’s curmudgeonly column asked, “Is anyone really listening in the office?

It’s certainly a fair question.

And it’s actually a question I found myself asking last week as I suffered through one of the worst customer service experiences it’s ever been my misfortune to endure.

I got a phone call from a sales rep at a very well known telephone directory company. This past year, against my better judgment, I had decided to experiment with some phonebook and online directory advertising through this same very well known company. My online listing has never functioned properly, despite repeated calls to tech support. I basically derived about the same benefit from my advertising dollars as I would have had I simply flushed the cash straight down the loo. So in all fairness I have to say that I was not exactly in a receptive frame of mind to increase my advertising spending when the sales rep called.

The sales rep, however, did nothing to aid his cause. His main problem? He didn’t listen to me. Not to a single word I said. It was pretty obvious that he didn’t care what my needs were, since he never bothered to ask. Instead, he argued with me. And he interrupted me. The guy would not let me get a word in edgewise. And, worst of all, not only did he talk right through me, he talked down to me, too.

Thanks to his utter inability to listen, this sales rep succeeded in sabotaging whatever good will may have still existed between me and his employer.

Ironically, what he also succeeded in doing was to show me firsthand how important listening is–and how acutely its absence is felt when it doesn’t happen.

Certainly I understand that as a professional–it’s after all a large part of what mediators do. And I think that generally most people understand, in an academic kind of way, just how important listening is to business and social interactions.

But listening is more than just a theoretical exercise–it has real-world impact.

To see what I mean, read this post and this one by Patrick Lamb of In Search of Perfect Client Service, as well as this one by Bud Bilanich.

By the way, do you want to become a better listener? Take a mediation training. It’s a great way to learn and apply listening skills. And if you don’t have time to take a mediation training? Then try this:

  1. Remove distractions. Listening and multi-tasking don’t mix.
  2. Ask questions to find out what people are thinking. As Roger Fisher once said, “Statements get opposition. Questions get answers.”
  3. Listen carefully to the answers. Really listen. Most of the time, instead of listening, we’re planning a snappy comeback or thinking of our next question. Let go of that–just open up your ears and listen.
  4. Summarize in your own words what you’ve just heard.
  5. Lather, rinse, and repeat.

Now go ahead and practice those listening skills on an unsuspecting colleague, friend, or family member. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll hear.

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