Listening is an art form and there is a sound argument that listening is as important, if not more important, than presentation abilities. In a recent interview, co-founder and CEO of the private equity firm Blackstone Group, Steve Schwartzman, was asked what it takes to be a really good leader. He responded, “to be a leader you have to be a really good listener. You need to understand what goes on around you.”
One of the keys to becoming a more effective listener and a really good leader is to actually care about what someone else has to say. This is accomplished by recognizing both the verbal and nonverbal cues the person speaking to you is trying to convey. Not only do you need to carefully listen to the words someone is saying, but you must also be aware of tone of voice, facial expressions and body language. Next, you need to have the ability and the desire to process information received. Finally, you need to respond appropriately to validate that you understood what the information conveyed.
Validation takes many forms. One is to nod, signifying that you understand. Another is to paraphrase what you heard and obtain affirmation that your understanding is accurate. You need to be fully present and in the moment with the person who is speaking.
To be fully present, look through the lens of the person who is speaking. Where are they coming from and why? What problems are they trying to solve. What guidance are they looking for? When you look through the speaker’s lens, they will appreciate your effort to really understand what is important to them.
Another key is being focused. To demonstrate to your customers and clients that you are listening to them actively and are in tune with their needs and desires, consider taking notes during these conversations. On one side of a piece of paper write general notes about what customers are looking for, and on the right hand side jot down the most valuable pieces of information conveyed that may relate to style, budget, concerns, etc.
Most people engaged in conversations are focused more on what they are going to say next than they are about listening to what another person has to say. It's hard to stay focused if you are the person in a conversation that does most of the talking. Another reason for your mind losing interest is that you editorialize the points that the person is trying to make. This prevents you from fully focusing on what is being said. Pay attention to what makes you lose interest, and then shift your focus back to what the person is trying to say.
Emotions can also prevent you from listening. Have you ever noticed when someone becomes highly emotional that they don't hear a word you are saying? When someone vents, we often let him or her finish before responding. That's not always the best way to demonstrate that you have heard what they are trying to say. To help better understand the root of the person's anger or point, ask questions. Asking someone what makes them most angry or what they are most worried about forces the other person to focus on the incidents that caused an emotional response. It also demonstrates that you have listened to them and are concerned for their particular predicament.
Becoming a better listener makes you a better communicator. The customer who is talking to you realizes that you care about what they have to say, and when you demonstrate that you care, you establish trust. People will purchase from those whom they trust.