One of the business units I run is an inbound call center. If I want to know what sort of day we are having, I go and sit in an empty cubicle in the call center and close my eyes to listen to the hum of the room.
In a few minutes I can hear if we are having a good selling day, a busy customer service day or if there is a full moon rising and all the distraught people of the world are calling.
Years of practicing sales and customer service, and training sales people, teaches you to listen to prospects, customers and apprentices carefully. You learn to listen for buying signs, pain points, frustration and hope. Listening carefully is the great skill of sales and customer service people. It is also the great skill of leaders.
Focus and listen
Leaders are being presented with information and situations all day long. You have meetings with your generals and captains, your teams and your superiors, one right after the other. You talk with employees, customers and vendors on a regular basis.
How do you pick up the most important pieces of information, tie together all the loose ends that could produce meaningful intelligence and understand what the next steps should be? By listening.
As leaders, we have our own agendas, goals and initiatives we are promoting. We are often the ones doing the talking, doing the persuading and giving the directions. But great leaders listen far more than they talk.
When you listen carefully to your superiors, you can understand the wider and deeper conditions that are influencing the big picture. This is powerful information that will help you meet the big goals and help your bosses succeed.
When you listen carefully to your reports and their teams, you can identify the good work that is being done and can hear how the next steps are already falling into place. This allows you to empower and encourage good decision-making and good outcomes.
Ask the customer
Customers will give you great insight if you ask them anything about their experiences.
Listening is not as easy as you might think. You have to let people talk. You have to discipline your mind to not get distracted while other people are talking. You have to be patient while people tell their stories, so they can develop their thoughts.
Then you have to encourage the sound thinking, ask good questions to develop the concepts and help the person identify the highlights of the conversation.
Try a different approach to giving direction. Instead of saying, “I want you to do this …” try asking “What do you think about this … ” “What would happen if we did this … ” or “How do you think everyone would feel is we started to do this … ”.
This type of approach allows the other person to talk through the idea so you can listen for all the ways the new idea might work or might not work. Then you can jointly come up with solid action items that have a high chance of success.
The next time you are meeting with anyone, sit back and listen. You may be surprised at the great things you hear.