“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen.  Just listen.  Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention”   ~ Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.

“Can you hear me now?”  No?  I didn’t think so.  BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT LISTENING.

How many times have you heard that?  Or said that? Probably way too many times.  It seems that the skill of listening is in very short supply.  Is it because our attention spans are shrinking, or because the skills necessary for proper listening are not being taught?  And make no mistake; they do need to be taught.

If you Google “listening”, you get 647 million results, and if you expand it to “listening skills”, close to 10 million results come up in a fraction of a second.  Seems to be a subject people are talking about. But again, is anyone listening?

We all know how important listening is in personal relationships (we do know, don’t we?), but what about in business relationships?  One of the easiest ways to increase your bottom line is to listen.  To your customers as well as your employees.

By listening to your customers, you can understand their needs on a more personal level.  You can anticipate those needs, and deliver the products and services they are willing to pay for. And if they want to complain to you about an experience they had, this is money in the bank.  Most dissatisfied customers will never tell you, they will just go to the competition and never return. But if there is a way to correct the problem, they will most likely return, and sing your praises that you took the time and cared enough to make it right.

Most people just want to know they are being heard.  So if a customer is talking, let them talk!  Don’t interrupt.  Even if you feel what you have to say is more important.  On average, most people will finish their complaints in 2 minutes or less.  Then you will have the time to address their concerns.  But by interrupting, you are dismissing and disrespecting them in the most rudimentary way. You’ve no doubt heard the saying that God gave us 2 ears and 1 mouth so we would listen twice as much as we talk.

By listening to your employees, you can gain insight into what your customers are looking for, and how to make the product or service better.  Front line employees are your best source of what your customers want, because they work with them every day. They are also are your best source for streamlining systems and procedures.

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”   ~Ralph G. Nichols

When you are in a position to listen, remember:

  • Give your undivided attention.  Put down the phone or tablet.  Turn away from the computer and look at the person, not out the window. Lean forward.
  • Listening is not the same as hearing.  You need to focus on what is being said, and not concerned or thinking about how you are going to reply. Don’t interrupt! (Important enough to be said twice!)
  • Make the person feel at ease for coming to talk to you.  They shouldn’t feel nervous or stressed just because they want to say something.  What they have to say might be very valuable.
  • Empathy is a wonderful virtue.  Try to imagine yourself in that person’s shoes.  It will give you a new perspective.
  • Be careful of your non-verbal communication, as it says more than you think. No rolling of the eyes, shuffling papers, or arms and legs crossed in a defensive position.  Gestures and facial expressions sometimes say more than your words.  Be mindful of them.
  • If you’re not sure about something being said, ask questions.

When the person is finished, summarize the key points to make sure you understand. This will also let the person know they were heard.

And don’t forget to thank the person for coming to speak to you.  You might even be thanked for listening!

Paul Rutter is a customer loyalty, repeat business and customer service expert, a keynote speaker, corporate trainer and business author. He has had the unique opportunity to live with his customers and co-workers for months at a time traveling the world, and shares his experiences with land based businesses. For more information on More Than Perfect® Service, contact Paul at Paul@PaulRutterSpeaks.com, follow him on Twitter on @RealPaulRutter or visit him on Facebook/PaulRutterSpeaks.

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