Listening is harder than you might think.
Every day we’re on the receiving end of verbal messages from staff, customers and suppliers, but while we might hear the words, we often fail to spot the significance of what’s being said.
Poor listening skills can lead to incorrect assumptions and bad decisions - mistakes that can cost your business time and money and which sometimes damage relationships, leading to longer term issues.
Here are some tips to improve your listening skills and boost your ability to understand the messages coming your way.
1. Avoid making assumptions
We find it very easy to hear what we expect, rather than listening carefully to the message contained in the words coming our way. The danger of assuming that we know where a conversation is going is that we give the wrong response.
Faced with customers regularly asking similar questions, it’s easy to develop a set of stock answers. However, if you think you know what someone is asking without listening too closely, you could fail to spot their real need, meaning your response is less effective than it might be. The result could be a dissatisfied customer who might never come back.
2. Effective listening means focusing on the speaker
Listening as carefully as possible means giving your full attention to the speaker. Avoid distractions and make a conscious effort to listen.
Your body language will tell the speaker whether you’re taking in what they are saying. Let them know they have your attention by looking at them and giving small visual clues of your interest, such as an occasional nod.
Take care not to glance away at a computer screen or your mobile phone. Even if you’re still listening, these actions send negative messages to the speaker, implying that you’re not interested in what they have to say.
3. Avoid predicting what’s coming
Because time is precious, it’s too easy to jump ahead of the speaker, particularly if they’re not sure how to articulate the message they’re trying to get across. It’s tempting to finish their sentences for them, or give answers before they’ve finished.
While you think you’re being helpful, these actions can unsettle or annoy the speaker, resulting in poor quality of communication and possibly damaging customer relations.
4. Summarise what you’ve heard
We all think and speak in a slightly different way, meaning that the message you receive from the speaker might not be quite what they really meant. An effective technique for ensuring that you have heard the message clearly is to repeat back what you think was said.
This is particularly useful where a customer is trying to explain a complex requirement or problem. Repeating back what you think they said gives them the opportunity to correct or clarify the message.
5. Effective listening means asking questions
Another technique for seeking clarification is by using questions. Don’t be put off by thinking that you’re meant to understand everything that’s being said to you - it’s safer to ask questions rather than make assumptions that lead to a misunderstanding of the message.
If you’re not entirely sure what a customer is telling you, ask a question about a specific issue they’ve mentioned. Don’t be embarrassed if they have to repeat a point they think they’ve already explained.
This, and the other effective listening tips above, could lead to your conversations becoming a little longer. But they can also save you time by avoiding the misunderstandings that lead to mistakes and dissatisfaction.
Show your customers and others who engage with your business that you care, by taking the time to listen carefully to what they have to say.
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Photo credit: niclindh from Flickr
Labels: guide, listening skills