Listen Up

Feb. 2, 2011
Lend an ear and watch what happens

Listening can be one of the toughest skills to master, yet it is one of the most important skills to have. If you are not listening, you're not in touch with the world around you.

Customers will define for you exactly what they need if you're listening. Customers want us to know how to help them and what they fear. Some may not say it as clearly as others, or they may need help in defining their thoughts but listening is the first step in the sales process. Asking questions, clarifying requests, defining and refining what they're asking for is step two. Once you've defined the needs, you can explain exactly what you can and can't do to help them and why, including what will work or not, given their expectations. This is the process of earning trust and respect and ultimately this is what allows us to close a deal.

Trust breeds business success

Defining a customer's needs is only one piece of the listening puzzle, though. I recently heard that a key reason why long time successful businesses fail is because they stop listening-to clients, employees, advisors, friends, whomever. It's not prudent to ever stop listening no matter what position you hold in any organization. You need to know how competitors are selling against you, what's wrong with your products, what people think of your organization or think of you. Listening, thinking and keeping an open mind are important as there are hidden wisdoms in the strangest places, perhaps your own voice as you're advising others.

Listening to your employees is essential. They're your lifeline to success, the outside world; your customers and market needs. If they've been listening then they know everything that you need to know. Don't be hesitant to ask them directly, in surveys, focus groups, etc., but listen to what they say. Don't argue or try to talk it away; take it in and process it. If it's the truth, address it! Employees will work very hard to get a company to its end goal if it's doable and realistic. Most people thrive on success and wither with failure if barriers cannot be overcome. Are you letting your employees be successful?

According to many online sites that I found by searching "what employees want from employers" I found research done in 1947 and repeated many times up until today, where employees continue to identify the same things. The number one thing that they want is full appreciation for the work they've done; two is feeling "in" on things, and three is offering sympathetic help on personal issues. We can't ignore how people feel at work or at home. We are emotional beings and it spills over to work and vice versa. If you don't like the touchy-feely stuff then find someone in your organization that does and knows how to manage employees. Let them handle that piece.

Employers ranked these exact same three things as 8th, 9th and 10th on their list of most important to their employees. Now, there is a listening disconnect of 54 years! The 10 top negative boss behaviors were identified as: vagueness, mixed messages, favoritism, lack of feedback and flip-flopping on issues.

When it came to what employer's want of their employees, the number one request was being willing to listen/being an exceptional listener/communicator. This has to be a two-way street! Two was dependable, ethical, trustworthy; and three was being a self starter or analytical thinker and creative problem solver. The variations depended on what job an employer was looking to fill and while the words used might be a different, the end requests seem comparable.

So listen up, ask questions, take note of what is said, think about it and use what you learn wisely.