How becoming a better listener can improve communication with your employees and customers

Keith Kartman, Senior Sales Executive, JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice

People tend to think that listening is the same thing as hearing, but this is inaccurate.

Listening requires being alert and realizing that the person that you are conversing with needs to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, but, rather, with the intent to reply. And many times, a person who is “listening” will interrupt to share his or her opinion before even acknowledging what the other person has said, says Keith Kartman, senior sales executive with JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice.

“This can be dangerous, particularly when it comes to business,” says Kart- man. “Are your employees really hearing the message that you want to deliver? Are they fully grasping the feedback from customers?”

Smart Business spoke with Kartman about really hearing what people are saying, and not just listening to calculate a response.

Why is being a good listener so important?

Listening is one of the most effective ways of learning what your customers truly value. Effective listening is an invaluable skill that can help you and your employees better understand your customers’ needs, wants and expectations. When listening with total engagement, communication is not just saying something; it is really being heard.

Although listening is a primary activity, most individuals are inefficient listeners. Why? Because most people were never taught how to listen and some are too busy talking or thinking about what they are going to say next. You cannot talk and listen at the same time. As a result, they miss out on new business opportunities, a chance to learn new ideas and to meet new people. Listening is an active process that consists of three primary activities: hearing, understanding and judging.

What are some tips for being a good listener?

  • Give your full attention to what the other person is saying. Do not look out the window, talk with others or daydream while an individual is speaking to you.
  • Be focused. It can be easy to let your mind wander. You need to be attentive; do not assume that you know what the speaker is going to say next. If you have that expectation, the chances are good that you could be wrong.
  • Do not interrupt. Let the individual finish speaking before you respond. Speakers appreciate the opportunity to say everything that they want to say and do not appreciate being interrupted.
  • Take the opportunity to truly listen. Let the speaker finish before fashioning a response. It is difficult to listen if you are too busy thinking about how to respond before the speaker has finished his or her thoughts.
  • Be empathetic and nonjudgmental. Each of us has quirks. Instead of focusing on distracting behaviors that the speaker may exhibit, concentrate on what the speaker is saying.
  • Ask questions. If the speaker’s point is unclear, ask concise questions to clarify. It is also a good idea for the listener to repeat what the speaker said in his or her own words to ensure that the message is understood correctly. This is commonly called three-way communication. After repeating what the listener heard, the speaker then has an opportunity to clarify any confusion.
  • Give feedback. Be attentive, sit up straight and establish eye contact with the speaker. Use nonverbal signs such as a facial expression to help connect with the speaker.

How can asking the right questions help you become a better listener?

Once you have learned to keep yourself from speaking and interrupting the person who is talking to you, learning the right way to ask questions can also help with effective listening. Asking questions is often the most practical way to find out what you need to know. Here are some examples for asking questions:

  • Ask a question that allows you to confirm or correct the thoughts you may have formed.
  • Pause for silence; try not to talk over a crowd when asking a question.
  • Plan your questions carefully. This will help you avoid being long-winded.
  • Do not make excuses, as this can be annoying to the crowd and unnecessary.
  • Remember that you will be happy that you asked a question. This allows one to feel more engaged and interested in the topic at hand.

A good listener should find it easy to establish positive working relationships with bosses, clients and colleagues. Oftentimes, people will try to avoid bad listeners altogether rather than spend the energy required to properly communicate complex matters. This leads to missed opportunities that would be readily accessible otherwise.

Careful listening is difficult and will require practice to improve. Make an at- tempt to understand the other person’s point of view and perspective before passing judgment and offering a response. Take the time to listen, and you might be surprised at what you learn.

KEITH KARTMAN is senior sales executive with JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice. Reach him at (412) 456-7010 or [email protected]