It’s no secret that people would rather talk than listen. By using the key words “Listening skills for business” in a recent online search, we discovered there were 14,200,000 responses. On the other hand, when searching under “Speaking skills for business,” there were only 34,700,000 entries. That’s almost a 2:1 ratio. Do you ever wonder what would happen if companies invested in listening as much as they do in speaking? To help companies do a better job creating a culture that values listening, we are sharing five listening mistakes that can ruin a business as well as some ways to address them.
Mistake #1: Not listening to customers. This seems like it would be a “no-brainer,” but it happens all the time, even to the big guys. Some of history’s failures are the Ford Edsel, Sony Betamax and more recently, the Nook. The companies still exist, but they suffered arguably avoidable losses.
Fix #1: Pay attention to customers’ likes and dislikes and notice quickly when a product or service starts to decline or fails to catch on with customers. Install systems to measure market responses. Recognize that social media is where customers give feedback, ask for help and voice complaints, and then use this medium to your advantage.
Mistake #2: Not listening to your employees. Your employees can make you profitable or break the bank. They know a lot about your products and services and how you are perceived in the marketplace, but many companies fail to tap into this vast reservoir of knowledge.
Fix #2: Set up listening sessions with your employees. Don’t just tell them how they’re doing. Find out how you’re doing as an employer. Implement anonymous mechanisms to provide their input, and then acknowledge and respond. Offer incentives for sharing ideas and conduct surveys. You might be surprised by the responses you receive.
Mistake #3: Not listening for understanding. As workforces become more ethnically diverse, they also cross generations and genders. While exciting, the melting pot can prove challenging. When terms are confusing, misunderstandings can send people down a completely wrong path, waste time and increase stress.
Fix #3: Each person must take responsibility for understanding. Encourage people to seek clarification by asking, “By that, do you mean _________?” OR, “Does this word have a different definition, perhaps? I do not understand it in this context.”
Mistake #4: Not listening to your history. Who are the people in the organization who can articulate exactly why you’re in business and remind others what you set out to do? What problems have you historically solved for your customers? Does today’s solution need to be updated?
Fix #4: Know what business you are in. Listen to your own company lore. Know what problems you solve, what solutions you offer and why people do business with your company. You have to remain relevant even as business needs change.
Mistake #5: Not listening to the future. Kodak was the best (or worst) example. They didn’t listen when Polaroid instant cameras, cheap film from Japan or digital cameras entered their markets. They were not prepared for the train wreck they experienced. Or what about McDonald’s? Fox News, on December 12, 2014 reported: “McDonald’s is planning to trim its menu, review its cooking methods and maybe even get rid of some of the ingredients it uses to change perceptions that it serves junk food.” What took them so long?
Fix #5: Scope out the future, listen for trends and tap into industry experts and visionaries.
Some Listening Advice
In the end, real listening is both an art and a skill. The ability to listen is based on a conscious effort and commitment to do so. Often this stems from the recognition of the benefits listening provides, including fostering better working relationships, enhancing customers’ experiences and using dialogues to make better decisions based on a steady stream of information exchange.
The best advice might be found in Psychology Today’s introduction to their Listening Skills Test, “Most people believe they are good listeners without considering the important differences between hearing and listening. The ability to hear is typically innate, but the ability to listen well is a skill that must be developed and practiced. Listening means paying attention and making a conscious effort to process what you hear.”