I mentioned in my January newsletter that my 2014 goal to be a better listener. Since starting my own business nearly seven years ago, I realized that many of the “learning opportunities” (i.e. mistakes) I experienced were because  I wasn’t really listening to my clients, prospects, partners and coaches as well as I should have. It was costing me time and money in my business and personal life.

Not listening costs time and money

While I won’t dwell on the personal consequences of not listening, it’s important to be a good listener when it comes to your business…whether you are the CEO or an employee. In a blog by Jocelyn Ring, she points out the 10 costly business consequences of not listening:

  1. Meetings can run longer
  2. Takes longer to communicate an idea
  3. Next action steps are not clear; a week later you find out things were done incorrectly
  4. Costs time
  5. Costs money
  6. Not listening to customers—you can lose a customer
  7. Spend extra time, money, and resources to win the customer back
  8. Not asking questions to clarify what was said means you miss opportunities to serve your customers and team members better
  9. When the people on your team feel understood, they are more invested in the team and its mission.
  10. People stop engaging, since what they say doesn’t matter

It’s a simple trade-off of being a better listener or spending more time and money on business.

How to be a better listener

I am fortunate to have two good friends who happen to be listening gurus. Dr. Dallas Demmitt and Nancy Demmitt are authors of the book “Can You Hear Me Now?”. The book was written to help individuals listen and communicate more effectively. Dallas and Nancy use a model called the Listening Hand which as you might imagine has 5 parts (fingers). My summary of their model is:

  1. Anchoring (Thumb) – Dallas and Nancy are Christians so they recommend being anchored in Jesus Christ. However, your anchor is what you rely on when facing difficult circumstances. All of us experience difficult conversations whether that is an unhappy customer, giving difficult feedback to an employee, or negotiating a contract. It’s important to be calm and centered.
  2. Focusing (Second finger) – focus on what the person is saying to you. This is very hard to do since we typically want to respond immediately. We try to defend, challenge, question or calm down whoever is speaking. The problem is that we aren’t truly listening when we do this.
  3. Summarizing (Middle finger) – Summarizing what you are hearing (you may have to interrupt if they are talking a lot) is very important for several reasons. First, it gives you a chance to tell the person what you are hearing. Summarizing in your words what you heard and the emotion they are feeling is extremely crucial. Second, it gives the person a chance to clarify what they said if you did not understand it correctly. Unfortunately, we typically do not understand things correctly when starting a conversation.
  4. Inviting (Ring finger) –We often believe when the person is done speaking that they have said everything but it is often the contrary. Inviting others to “say more” is where the deeper understanding takes place. It gives the speaker an opportunity to self-discover what they are truly trying to convey.
  5. Asking (Pinky finger) – Now that the speaker has been able to say everything that is on their mind, they feel you know not just their mind but also their heart. Because you are more informed and have a better grasp on things, you can ask better open-ended questions which will result in an even deeper and richer conversation.

Better listening benefits everyone

This approach has helped me with my goal this year of being a better listener. I recently used the Listening Hand in a teambuilding session that I was helping to facilitate. There were perceptible tensions within the executive team. In an especially tense situation, I asked the CTO what he heard the CEO say. As I worked with him to summarize what he had heard, the CEO clarified and eventually acknowledged that the CTO had summarized correctly. Once the CTO was able to accurately state what the CEO said, I asked him how the CEO felt. It was a very special moment when the CEO finally felt understood. The executive team achieved a breakthrough as a team that session and that executive team has been working better and better since. These executives have also become better communicators with their employees and customers.

Become a better listener (more of the time)

Listening to understand is so vital to everything we do, yet we often don’t take the extra time to do it right. Using the Listening Hand approach will help you listen better more of the time and you will benefit not only in business but in your personal life as well.