Is it me or does it seem that no one really listens anymore? Case in point. I called my salon this morning to move an appointment. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “Hi. I have a manicure appointment Saturday morning that I’d like to reschedule.”
Reception: “Okay, you want to cancel your appointment Friday?”
Me: “No. I have an appointment Saturday that I want to cancel and reschedule.”
Reception. “Okay, I’ve moved you to the same time on Friday.”
Me: “Let’s start over.”
Me: “Let’s start over. I have an appointment Saturday morning that I need to reschedule. Can you tell me what else is available on Saturday?”
Reception: “For nails or makeup?”
Me: “For nails.”
Reception: “But I see you also have an appointment for makeup?”
Me: “Yes I do. That’s on Friday and it’s not related to Saturday.” I want you to cancel my nail appointment on Saturday and tell me what other times are available on Saturday.”
Reception: “Oh, okay, you weren’t clear before.”
And that is the problem! How often do we think we are crystal clear when we’re not? How often do we think miscommunication is the other person’s fault? A recent article in CIO Insight said: “Some people say communication is a 50-50 proposition. I vehemently disagree! If I am trying to deliver a message and am unsuccessful, the onus is 100 percent on me to find a way to get my message understood and accepted.”
I agree with the article but for one exception. The onus is also on the listener to listen. In the case of the salon receptionist, I’m not sure that she was listening. Was she texting on her phone? Was she preoccupied with another customer? Was she playing Candy Crush or another addictive on-line game?
There are a host of reasons people don’t listen starting with they aren’t interested in what you have to say. Here are ten other mistakes:
- You take too long to get to the point
- You fail to put words into context
- You aren’t clear about what actions you want taken
- You seem disengaged and not fully present
- It’s all about you and not about them
- You complain too much
- You show no compassion or concern
- You seem disconnected from those around you
- You use too many big words to sound self-important
- You speak in a monotone voice with no inflection or passion
Notice the commonality of my top ten. Every mistake starts with the word ‘You’ which takes us back the author’s point. Only you can fix you.
In business, leading by example means acting by example. Leadership is about behavior. That means you can’t have two sets of rules—one for listeners and another for you. If you want people to be fully present when you speak, then you must do the same when they speak. If you want others to quickly get to the point and tell you what you need to know, then you need to practice that same performance.
Your willingness to admit mistakes and improve behavior will help you become a stronger leader poised to solve problems, motivate followers and create a safe environment where others aren’t afraid to speak their minds and occasionally err. That happens by fully listening to others. If you want someone’s full attention, then give them yours.
It’s easy to jump in when someone is talking. They say something and you’re busy formulating how you want to interject or respond. However, if you’re thinking about what you want to say while someone else is speaking, then you’re not fully listening.
Listening also means reading cues. While preparing for a sales communication training, we had the opportunity to shadow several salespeople who would be participating in the training. While experienced and charming, they were so focused on what they wanted to say that they didn’t recognize when their listener was tuning out.
If they had, they could have paused and asked a question that would have brought the conversation back to what the listener considered important.
Listening also means paying attention to how you’re received on a bigger scale. Recently a public relations agency referred me to a potential client who runs a big data analytics company. They called him ‘the smartest man in the room’, but said he consistently talked over people’s heads. They were right. Not only did I have great difficulty getting him off the phone, but I struggled to understand what he was saying. He wanted me to help him create a more engaging personal style so people listened when he talked.
For starters I offered that many people didn’t understand his business or the words he used. I suggested he should simplify his message by omitting details and replacing them with analogies or examples that would create greater understanding. He kept talking.
I proposed that he differentiate between everything he wanted to tell people and what they really needed to know by asking why, what and how questions. Why does the listener need to know this? How can they apply information or benefit from what he’s sharing? What does it mean to them?
He said that may be good advice for people who deal in “fuzzy topics” but his business was far more complex and couldn’t be “dumbed down.”
“My subject is more complicated and tougher to explain” is a frequent objection when people are too self-absorbed to care about making sense of information for others. It’s much easier to talk biz-speak than work on creating clear concise listener-centric messages.
However, if you sincerely want to develop a personal style, you have to connect with people on an emotional level. You can’t do that with words like integrated reciprocal responsive and deliverables. Instead of spouting more data and technical information, look for ways to make what you’re saying about them.
If that means dumbing it down, then by all means, start dumbing. There’s nothing dumb about taking responsibility for what you want to say instead of blaming others for missing your point.