“Years ago, I worked for an amazing HR Director who always seemed to hear what I wasn’t saying. She truly taught me about the power of listening.” – Leighann Joseph
This message was sent to me late last year by Leighann Joseph of Living Loud Coaching, and I am continually delighted by how simply it captures the essence of profound listening.
Our ability to listen fully is the foundation of delivering excellence to our clients. It encompasses not only words and intent, but also what is not being said. It demands a level of presence and focus that deadlines and responsibilities often make difficult to achieve.
Yet our ability to be a storyfinder depends on profound listening. In each of our conversations, we want to be fully present so we can react and respond generously to all that is being shared.
How can we accomplish this? What steps can we take to ignite our profound listening in all our conversations?
- Book Your Conversations as Meetings – This is one of the biggest changes I’ve made to my communication strategy in the past three years. By allowing both prospects and clients to choose when and how we will connect, all my conversations have become more focused, effective and efficient. When a conversation is in our calendars like a meeting, as opposed to randomly appearing in our day, we encounter less defensiveness, are fully prepared, and are committed to staying both on topic and on time. If you are not already scheduling your conversations, this article reviews some of the best ways you can make it happen: https://www.capterra.com/sem-compare/scheduling-software/
- Take Time to Prepare – Whether a conversation is with a new prospect or a long-standing client, it is invaluable to take time to prepare. This might involve reviewing a website or reading through your notes on previous discussions and/or completed projects. Doing this will accomplish two things: 1) Clear your mind of the current projects and deadlines on your desk and allow you to be fully present; and 2) Allow you to bring ideas, questions and information to the conversation that apply specifically to this person or company.
- Eliminate Distractions – During conversations it is easy to have other things on our mind, thoughts that pop up and, while they may not interrupt a discussion, they certainly diminish our ability to listen. We can minimize these distractions by creating clear space. This can include: turning off notifications on both your phone and computer; if it is not a video conversation, shutting off your monitor; turning over any papers on your desk that might attract your attention; closing your door; and even closing your eyes while the other person is speaking. As Leighann Joseph recently shared on LinkedIn: “I love eliminating distractions! That’s why screens can be turned off, phones forwarded, and doors can be closed.”
- Ask LOTS of Questions – Storyfinding allows us to discover more about our prospects and clients. Talking about ourselves limits this discovery. When we fully listen, we will always uncover another question that allows us to learn more about the company, project and person. While some of our questions can be prepared beforehand, the most poignant ones are found in the moment. And they are open-ended, encouraging – and welcoming the other to share without limits.
- Use Pen and Paper – There are numerous studies, most aimed at students, about the advantages of using pen and paper to take notes. This one from Sabina Nawaz discusses how note-taking in meetings helps us listen and participate: https://hbr.org/2017/03/become-a-better-listener-by-taking-notes. Bottom line? Taking notes with pen and paper allows us to be active listeners, hearing and processing what’s being said as well as making quick connections with other valuable information. It also helps us identify the excellent questions that create detailed storyfinder conversations.
- Identify Your Assumptions – We all make assumptions, influenced by an article we’ve read, something a colleague has shared or our interpretation of a company’s website. Profound listening requires that we identify and ditch our assumptions. There is one magic phrase that can help us accomplish this and you can read more here.
- Set Aside Your Intent – Intent is a close cousin of assumptions and has the ability to cloud our conversations. Of course, goals and outcomes are important in creating effective and efficient communication. However, our intent can limit our ability to clearly hear objections, hesitations and even additional opportunities. As a storyfinder, we want to use our intent as bookends, including it at the beginning and returning to it at the end of our discussions. In the middle, we want to keep our focus on what the other person is saying and how we can best respond.
- React to What You “Hear” – One of the reasons I’ve always loved the phone is its ability to amplify our hearing. Because it doesn’t include a visual, our ears compensate for this lack of sight, similar to being blind. This allows us to not only hear an extended silence in a conversation but also distinguish between types of silence. It becomes possible to know if the silence indicates an unasked question or skepticism, or is simply a thought-filled moment. Of course, when we include video in our conversations, we have the benefit of observing body language which can expand what we “hear” and ignite our intuition. All of this supports us in creating amazing, storyfinding conversations.
What steps do you take to amplify your listening? Share your tips in the comment sections below.