Communicate better- Listen on Purpose

I know you hear me, but are you listening?  I saw that on a billboard somewhere.  I know I’ve thought it plenty in my time as an entrepreneur.  How about you?

This is the secret to success

You know that scene in the Graduate where the suburban dad whispers his vision of the future to a young Dustin Hoffman?  Lean in, I’m whispering.

Listen on purpose.

What the heck does that mean?  I’m noodling on a couple of things.  This phrase has been rolling around my noggin for weeks, but I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Then, gradually the ideas came together.  Listening on purpose is two things: the skill  and the stance.

The Skill- help the speaker communicate more effectively

Listening is the most underrated business communication skill on the planet.  The best listener in the room wins because that’s the person who understands the interests and needs of those around her.  She’s listened in a way that allowed the speaker to communicate their message more clearly and fully.  By asking the thoughtful, neutral questions, the listener draws information from the speaker that allows her to clarify, discover, expand, rethink.

You know about active listening I’m sure.  So, I won’t mention that it’s about giving your full attention and proper eye contact and using open-ended questions like ‘Can you say more about…’ to draw out more info.  I will say that you are not the judge of whether you’re a good listener or not.  Like beauty, it’s in the other guy’s eye.  Ask your business circle.  Ask your kids.  Then, shut up and listen without a sound or defense.  You’ll discover patterns that need some work.

Here’s my twist on active listening.  To listen on purpose as a skill, be sure to ask what the speaker wants: support or problem-solving

What are you listening for?

Face it.  We’re helpers.  We love to jump in and help fix things and make them better.  Great thing to do but you can’t assume that by sharing with you that the speaker is asking for your advice,  or for you to find a solution. Quick story.

Remember when I had that terrible communication mishap with the makeup artist?  Well, I shared that with one of my buddies while we were hiking.  I forgot to say I wanted her support as a friend.  She, being a very good friend, jumped to my rescue with all kinds of strategies and theories.  After a few frustrating minutes of talking (why isn’t she sympathizing with me???), I realized we were communicating at cross purposes.  She was problem-solving.  I needed support.  A mis-match.

I bet you’ve had times when a client shared a frustration or problem with you where you rescued them and they weren’t all that thankful for the solution. Or, they were thrilled with the extra attention but you were resentful of how what they communicated created so much more work for you.  Those times you and your client were like ships passing in the night.  It’s likely they were asking for you to lean on you, not only have a problem solved or at all.

For a client who complains about completing your homework (what you need to do your best work), simply listening with the purpose of acknowledging and encouragement them could make a big difference.  And, it’s a better alternative than trying to figure out a workaround yourself.

Problem-solve or Support?

Next time you’re about sit down for a client conversation ask yourself, what’s my purpose in listening here?  Am I trying to support and acknowledge this person, or am I here to offer ideas and suggestions?  There’s no harm in asking, if you don’t know.   Showing your vulnerability and willingness to connect builds trust, which creates a connection that leads to all manner of good stuff like loyalty, commitment, more sales, referrals and new opportunities.  See what I’m saying about a win?!

Obviously, I’m a huge fan of listening, if this long post is any indication. Listen on Purpose might be maxim number 4! I like it so much. (I’m building a list of maxims smart solopreneurs live by.) I’ll share what The Stance is on my next post.

I’m curious about what you think.  How would your business improve (more sales, less stress, more growth) if you were a more skilled listener?





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