Have you ever been to a party or social gathering and you, or someone else started telling a story and before she was done other people had interrupted her, looked down at their phone to check for a text, or walked away to talk to someone else? Listening is a lost art. We are a culture of short attention spans and it’s getting worse.
Time was when people let others finish their sentences or story before someone commented, or interrupted. I’m always impressed when I meet someone and they make a point to turn their phone to silent or put it away in their bag, or purse before we begin. They are sending a strong message when they do so. They are telling us that our conversation is the most important thing going on at that moment. And yet, nearly every day I experience conversations (short and long) where people look at their smartphone or watch constantly to check messages, or worse, reply.
When you are with a client(s) make sure you put your phone away, or on silent and don’t check it unless you are expecting an important call about a family member, or child that’s traveling, etc. And if you are expecting an important call tell the client before you begin the meeting.
Make eye contact with your customer and affirm what they are saying. Use confirming responses so they know you are tracking with them. Ask open-ended probing questions, but listen to their answers or responses. I can’t count the number of times I had something ready to ask or say upon a response to something I asked, but totally changed directions on my followup based on their initial response. When you respond “in conversation” they know you are listening. Everyone wants someone to listen to them. Better to gently reign in a long-winded client than to cut them off as if to say their comments are not as important as your offer, or idea.
Recently I watched my digital marketing mentor change directions during a pretty big strategy session with a client’s team. He had an idea and one of the client’s representatives objected verbally and physically through body language to his suggestion. He paused and asked the person why.
Then he let them make their point and ask questions. He didn’t interrupt. He let them finish and then he provided data as to why he was making the suggestion. The person didn’t stand up and say, “YES!” but listened to him because he did not dismiss, or cut them off. He listened to their objections with grace and this was not the decision-maker. I marveled at his measured, patient and empathetic response.
He validated the objection but followed up with data and the experience of other clients who have gone the route he suggested. What if he had cut the person off and bull-dogged ahead? The person wasn’t the decision-maker. Instead, he validated a team member and their questions, or reactions. He listened and responded with deliberation, not an emotional, or knee-jerk reaction. By listening he told the entire group without saying it that he respected them as the subject matter experts of their business. He earned their respect. He earned mine and taught me a valuable lesson. Seems I’ve spent much of my adult life learning to listen.
Long ago, I had a pastor who when making a critical point in his homily/sermon would ask, “Are you listening?” He made me stop and ask myself if I was really listening. He would usually ask the question when he was saying something most of us were bristling about like loving your neighbor as yourself or loving your enemy. He was sincere and it made me ask myself if I had a closed or open mind to what he was saying.
When we ignore a client/customer whether real or perceived we have crossed a line and given the competition a foothold. When meeting with clients think, think, think. Listen, listen, listen, listen and you will uncover their greatest need. Then you can provide a solution that offers value. If we don’t offer value we are done and you can’t offer real value without listening to their need, challenge, or problem. Are you listening?