The business benefits of listening

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Friends, Romans, business leaders - lend me your ears. David Kay talks listening tips in business.

Companies sell a product or service to generate revenue and profit – simple. So how can listening help? Simply too much focus on the product or service without listening to the customer can cause declining revenues and profit. 

Malcolm Gladwell, in a TED talk (2004) about happiness and spaghetti sauce, talked about how listening transformed the spaghetti sauce market. The initial thinking was that all companies focused on their product, namely producing the ‘best’ sauce in comparison to others. After all, we all want to be the best and be the number one bestseller - or do we?

Malcolm talked about his good friend Howard Moskowitz, a researcher. He believed that you do not need to improve the regular brand but create a new one. Howard believed that most people choose a certain type of food, not to their liking, but from others, even if they did not like it. He believed customers have a wide variety of needs and wants and by listening to these and by producing different choices this would raise the level of satisfaction to a ‘cluster’ of people.  

When the research was carried out, they found some people preferred a chunky sauce while others preferred non-chunky. From one single ‘best’ sauce, they put forward that there needs to be a variety of sauces to meet different customer needs. Listening helps understand what exactly people want, why they want it and how much they are likely to pay. Was this successful? Just go to your local supermarket and look at the vast array of sauces you can now buy. It was so successful it has given rise to horizontal segmentation.

It can be that simple. If you’ve reached this far, well done. Now let’s look at practical things you can do now:

  • Decide you want to improve and identify a situation where you want to be a better listener. One step and one situation at a time. Try to make it specific rather than ‘I will be a better listener with my boss’
  • Be mindful of your prejudices and bias (we all have them but some people are more conscious of these than others), so they do not unduly influence your listening
  • At intervals try paraphrasing what people have been saying. What is the worst that can happen? Paraphrasing shows you have heard what the other person has said.
  • Be careful not to parrot and simply constantly repeat word for word as this can be annoying
  • Enjoy silence 
  • Avoid rushing in and finishing other people’s...
  • Focus on the person speaking and make eye contact. You might be listening but unless the person feels listened to, your impact will be diminished 
  • Only speak or reply in obvious gaps. A pause for breath is not your opportunity to dive in and have your two pennies’ worth
  • Don’t interrupt too often
  • Sit on your hands (for some of you) – if you talk with your hands, gesturing, etc., then controlling your hands can often make you talk less
  • Do you really want to? Without motivation, you are likely to struggle with any of these tips. What is your motivation on a scale of 1 to 10? If you score less than 8, review your motivation before starting

Please don’t try all these at once but pick one or two that you think or feel will make a difference. Once you have the one or two, don’t 'try' but commit to it – there’s a massive difference between these two words.

David has over 25 years' experience in learning, leadership, management development and talent management, working in a range of industries including banking, information technology, consulting, insurance, utilities and telecommunications. You can buy David's book here

About David Kay

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