Australian entrepreneur, and founder of Boost Juice, Janine Allis has this piece of advice for businesses – “listen more than talk”. She says listening to people who have successfully set up and run their own business is the best piece of advice she would pass on to others.
Whether it is meeting people for advice, coaching and mentoring, or as part of networking, she will often write down what she has learnt from listening to others.
As the Greek philosopher Epictetus pointed out, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” These are wise words indeed.
The beauty of listening is that we come into this world equipped with what we need to be a good listener, but there are always ways in which to improve our listening skills.
If you want that edge over your competition, a dedicated and loyal team, and customers who are loyal to you and your brand, then you need to listen up.
Good listeners make better leaders and this can directly impact workplace relationships and the the decisions you make. Listening will help you understand more about the people around you, including what makes them tick and whether you are using their skills and abilities appropriately.
Good listening skills also engenders learning and knowledge of the critical intelligence you need on your competitors, for example. A good listener will cultivate trust in the workplace, promote and increase both employee and customer satisfaction, and establish the true facts and data needed to make decision making effective.
Barriers to effective listening
So how can you be a better listener? The first step is to understand the barriers to listening:
Physical barriers are the easiest to identify. They are also easiest to remove or minimise by simply putting in place actions or adjustments. We are speaking here about noisy environments such as factories, public spaces, open plan offices or background noise. Removing yourself from these environments and ensuring that you are giving your full attention to the speaker is relatively easy.
Other factors such as hearing loss, or physical tiredness (even hunger) can affect your ability to listen, along with any visual distractions going on in the background. Regular medical checks, hearing aids, getting a good night’s sleep and holding conversations in a quiet environment free from distractions will aid your listening skills.
Psychological barriers are harder to recognize and therefore harder to do something about. They come in the form of ingrained beliefs or preconceptions, internal conversations and background knowledge.
Ingrained beliefs or preconceptions can be the thing that, for us, represents the “truth” for all we hear if we are not careful. An example of this would be “a woman cannot do a man’s job”. Unless we can be consciously open-minded about what we are hearing, this could end up being the framework within which we listen.
Internal conversations are the ones you replay in your head when others are talking. These can range from telling yourself that if the speaker uses a particular phrase one more time you will really start tearing your hair out, to practicing a speech you have to make to the whole workforce, and therefore you are not really listening at all to the person in front of you.
The other psychological barrier to listening is that of the background story that is in constant play before the conversation starts. This is when you have prior knowledge of the person, the situation leading up to the conversation, and the labels or stories that precede where you are at this moment in time. The danger then is that you have this story as a filter through which you hear the current conversation and information.
Becoming a better listener
Removing any psychological or physical barriers is a start because listening barriers act as a blockage to any new and pertinent information being heard. Once you have removed these barriers you can then begin to focus on challenging the information you are presented with, and testing the data so that you can arrive at an informed decision.
Showing respect to the person you are listening to through listening, then questioning and testing to check you have heard what they have to say, ensure that you build up a respect from those around you.
Close your mouth and open your ears
The 80/20 rule is a good one – let the speaker talk for 80% of the conversation while you restrict yourself to speaking for the remaining 20%. Even then, when you do open your mouth, make sure that you are asking questions and testing your understanding.
If someone has a concern about how to keep staff motivated during a period of reducing cost and balancing the budget for example, and all you hear are the words “budget” and start to speak about streamlining the business, this shows that you haven’t listened.
You have to think consciously about when you are going to break into the conversation, as the right question can move the conversation forward a pace, but you need to know where to draw the line between interruption and input.
Silence is golden
Last but not least, knowing when to keep quiet is a very effective tool, and you have to cultivate those thoughtful moments of silence when input from colleagues is allowed to come forward, as they can be very insightful.
Keeping quiet also helps you to spot the non-verbal clues that the person you are listening to is giving out. If they feel doubtful, or unsure about the moves you are proposing for the business but are worried about voicing these opinions, this is where you are going to pick up on their concerns.
Cultivate your listening skills. Not only will it enable you to make better-informed decisions and gather valuable information about the marketplace in which you work, but by making you a better leader, it will also increase the success of your business.
Sounds like a worthy investment!
This article has been edited and condensed.
Barry Oxley is the Director of Lending Specialists, a mortgage broking business based in Melbourne, Australia. Having been involved in the finance industry since 1970, Barry takes pride in the high level of service that Lending Specialists is able to provide. Thanks in part to the company’s emphasis on listening carefully to their clients’ needs and requirements, Lending Specialists has gained a strong reputation for providing quality assistance and offering sound professional advice.
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