It’s been said that listening is the greatest gift we can give another person. That means truly hearing what they say, with empathy.
How often do we truly listen to the people who are important to our businesses or organizations?
As Su Embree, President of DHM Research, says,
“Listening is really hard to master. Active listening is a learned skill, so we can all do it. I believe listening is the best way to connect in our personal relationships and to advance professionally in the workplace. I study the values and beliefs of people for a living – it’s a big passion for me. The listening skills I’ve developed in my career (and am still learning) have helped me build a successful business. It’s been critical to shaping my company culture, hiring the right people, and keeping customers for over 20 years.”
Here are eight ways to listen that can strengthen your relationships:
1. Walk up and start a conversation. I knew a CEO who would ask to join employees at lunch so he could learn about them and their work. The same can be done with clients and customers. Start with a “hi” and a smile. Greetings spark connections. People love to talk—especially about themselves—but remember, some are introverts and will require time. Give them your undivided attention and look them in the eye.
2. Actively listen, mirror and acknowledge. When you paraphrase what you’ve just been told and ask if you’ve heard correctly, it assures the other person that you’re listening, and keeps you from simply planning what you want to say after they’re done talking. It also helps people open up and expand on the information they’re sharing. You’re developing a relationship, and probably getting some great consumer insights as well.
3. Seek out diverse voices. Who are you listening to? Do they all sound like you—in your bubble of self-affirmation? It’s amazing what happens when you step outside your echo chamber and talk to people who are younger or older, or of different social or ethnic backgrounds, nationalities, or income levels. And don’t forget the squeaky wheels—many times folks who are critical or challenging will tell you what you really need to hear. Their voices are important, too.
4. Don’t talk. Don’t judge. It’s not your job as a listener to judge. Soak in what you’re hearing. Ask. Be open. Focus. Listen for content. Try to understand. Wonder: What else?
5. Have a third party do it for you. Sometimes people will tell a third party the things they can’t quite bring themselves to tell you. We do anonymous listening groups and one-on-one interviews with key stakeholders and diverse audiences help organizations gain fresh, honest insights that have been incredibly helpful for our clients.
6. Partner with an opinion research firm. We work with respected firms on surveys, focus groups, and testing of words, names and messages. This work informs and improves our clients’ strategies, communications plans and messaging.
7. Teach—and value—listening. A class on listening for all employees can build strong communication inside the group. Sound expert Julian Treasure gave a TED talk to savor about how to improve our conscious listening, and urges us to make conscious listening a priority to live fully.
8. Close the loop. At the end of a conversation, summarize what you’ve heard so you can take your next steps. If you’ve done a survey or focus group and put what you’ve heard into action, let people know why and how. And keep listening.