PILMMA, during an interview with Christine Miles, Founder, and CEO of EQuipt, a training and consulting company, came up with a simple but oft-ignored strategy to get and retain clients. That is to simply listen.
We commit a lot of mistakes and upset clients or potential clients by not listening to what’s being said. Unfortunately, starting with our early childhood schooling, like elementary school, high school college, most graduate programs have zero years of education on listening.
For example, when another lawyer’s arguing, you have to think about how you will refute, but then you don’t even hear what they’re saying. So, listening is something that is very much overlooked.
We know listening’s important. But we don’t really recognize that. We don’t spend any time to become better listeners.
We need to realize listening’s more powerful than telling. We’re teaching people to tell, talk, and know, but we really need to teach them how to listen differently because the results are there when we do.
There’s a lack of communication between the leadership and the employee staff, and also among the staff themselves. One of the key qualities of what makes a great staff or great employee is being people smart, which means understanding how to listen and not saying something inappropriate; having a little bit of a filter on yourself.
The problem is people only hear 25% of what’s said, and only 17 to 25% is retained. So that’s a pretty low statistic.
So, there are many barriers to listening, including the fact that we’re not taught – we’re told but not taught.
We first need to understand that “to listen” is important.
It’s not entering the radar because we don’t think about what it’s costing us not to. So, the first thing is to ask yourself, have you ever been told you’re not listening? Have you thought about what the costs are in your personal or business relationships?
Start to dig in a little bit and say, is this impacting me in any way? And if so, how? Because if that’s the case, then it’s time to do something about it. That’s the first thing – just recognize if it’s a problem.
With professionals like lawyers, doctors, accountants, and so on, it’s even worse because they’re taught to be experts, and one has to be. However, being an expert and having curiosity do not go hand in hand. If you’re the one who knows the most, why would you be curious and seek to understand when you have the answers already? So that’s a big problem that is counterintuitive to listening.
It’s a good idea when, even if you know the answer, ask the question of others to get them to understand.
But by and large, as experts, the more they know, the more likely they are to advise and solve the problem rather than seek to understand more about it.
You lead by asking questions, which means you have got to listen. However, most business leaders get it wrong when running a business as far as the listening part is concerned. A lot of leaders think they need to have all the answers to justify that position. But most effective leaders get the answers out of people.
The answers are usually within the mind share of the team, and the best insights come from that group. As a leader, you’re in a much more powerful position to make a dynamic impact with what you’re doing. A leader’s job is to bring expertise and insights from others.
There’s a famous quote by Maya Angela that most people have heard: people will forget what you said, they’ll forget what you did, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.
We need to practice; this is true of all behavioral changes. This is not – just let me give you a tip and do it. Of course, you’ll improve, but we have to practice our way to success.
The answers were always the same when you think of any great leader and what made them great. It’s the person that communicates well; it’s the person that cares. It’s the person that listens.
All the emotional skills are what the employees are after, not the smartest person in the room. And it’s all because it’s how they make people feel rather than what they are. And that’s true for your clients.
So how do you differentiate yourself? It’s making sure that the client knows that you understand them and that you do care in a way that they’re not just a number,
Difference between listening and listening to understand.
The gold standard of listening has been something called attentive listening.
Showing someone that you’re paying attention by being out of your phone, making eye contact, maybe asking some questions, and I’m paying attention, though, is a step in the right direction; it’s a very low bar to set. Just to prove to someone that you’re paying attention.
That’s a minimum, but the brain’s the enemy, and we get distracted. So it’s easy to get off.
Listening to understand is to really understand what’s happening beneath the surface and understand what you’re saying. And not just the words or the message. So, it’s really uncovering the meaning so that there’s a shared experience in the conversation where we’ve emotionally connected. And not just because I’m looking at or paying attention to you.
Compass in the conversation
Therapists and journalists use questions referred to as the compass in the conversation because they really help guide how you take the speaker on the path towards understanding.
So, one of those questions is, “How did it start?”.
It’s like meeting people in the middle of a movie. They come in with a problem; whether an employee or a client, we forget there’s a beginning and a setup. We need to take a step back and say, take me back. Where did this start?
Take me back to the beginning, and therapists do that. And journalists do that. They don’t fall for the trap of, oh, what’s next. They go, “let me go back before I go forward.” For some, this is very counterintuitive because we tend to go forward versus backward, but that’s one of the questions you want to ask.
The next one is, tell me more.
And we can compare this to a curious detective or a defense attorney who needs to shape the case to get your story out.
So, there are prescriptive and diagnostic questions to do that. Then, the curious detective opens the story up and lets the story come to them. “Tell me more” is just a prompt to have the person keep going. It’s incredible how much more you get than shutting somebody down with specific questions.
So, take me back. Tell me more.
And then another one is, “then what happened? What happened next?
Keep going, keep telling me more. Again, this prompts the teller along the way.
So, here’s the one that most people don’t ask. Ask about feelings and not just about facts.
So one of the questions is, how does that make you feel?
We tend to chase facts and not feelings, but if you really want to understand somebody, you’ll ask about the feelings when for example, as a lawyer, you’re prepping them for the case, when you’re understanding what the case is or when you’re trying to bring a client in. So, if you tap into their emotions, you’re really differentiating yourself and creating a connection where they will trust you differently.
When you open up a connection, you open up a different kind of dialogue. People then have the permission to tell you what they like and don’t like, and honest communication opens up rather than just letting them say nothing.
People will work for what’s called an empathetic employer. Somebody who cares, who understands. More likely to work longer hours and commit to the mission.
So it’s powerful. When we lead by understanding, that doesn’t mean we don’t have accountability, and you don’t have expectations; you need both. But when you give people that, they’re willing to give you a lot more; that’s proven.
So, in conclusion, the more we focus on the problem of not listening, the more we realize listening really does solve most problems.
You get pretty far down the road just by listening in a way that we really understand and affirm. So, we understand before we just jump in and do something about it.
This was an extract from a podcast on the same subject.
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