Are you a good listener? Do you speak more than you listen? Do you wait for people to finish their thoughts before you jump in with your own? Are you formulating your answer before the other person barely begun to speak? Do you focus on a person's words and behavior when they speak or are you thinking about the things you need to do later in the day? Most of us did not learn to be good listeners it is a skill rarely taught. We often find we are in too much of a hurry to "get to the point" and show how much we know or how we can solve someone's problem for him or her. We jump in with questions and comments; or find ourselves distracted by our own "mental clatter," only to discover when we return to the conversation that we have missed crucial information. The average person speaks approximately 150-200 words per minute, but we typically hear 300 words per minute. The potential for our minds to wander, check out and become bored is tremendous. Unfortunately, mentally checking out while someone is speaking to us will not make that person feel acknowledged or valued and that can spell disaster for customer service. Luckily, listening is a skill that you can learn and practice.
One of the best ways to ensure that you are listening is to give a brief summary of what you have just heard. Summarize and restate the specifics. This can be especially useful in dealing with customers it demonstrates that you clearly understand their needs and value their business. It also gives them an opportunity to clarify what they said. A variation of this technique is to silently repeat to yourself the last few sentences or phrases you have heard before you respond to the person. For example:
"I had a great weekend! We went to the country, stayed at a beautiful inn, and went skiing."
To yourself, You stayed in an inn and went skiing, "Great! What inn did you stay in?"
Try practicing this aloud a few times with someone to get the hang of it. This technique allows you to slow down, breathe and hear what the other person has said it also gives you time to think about a response.
Listening does not mean not talking. Not talking can be just as miserly as not listening. Listening means engaging another person, being alert and present with that person. Give visual cues that you are paying attention. Make eye contact, nod your head, lean slightly towards the person, keep your body open to them. Try not to lean away from the person, against a wall or table. Verbally acknowledge that you are listening by asking open-ended questions and responding with your voice ('oh!' 'how interesting', 'um-hm' are some common verbal acknowledgments).
Good listening can help you to create a "common ground" with your customers; it makes people feel valued and acknowledged. Listening will improve your business and personal relationships - the more you can make people feel valued, acknowledged and comfortable, the more they will value you. Listening is a skill that you can learn and practice. Next month: techniques to improve your listening skills.