There seems to be a growing realization of the importance of solid listening and communication skills in business. After all, lack of attention and respectful listening can be costly – leading to mistakes, poor service, misaligned goals, wasted time and lack of teamwork.

You can’t sell unless you understand your customer’s problem; you can’t manage unless you understand your employee’s motivation; and you can’t gain team consensus unless you understand each team member’s feelings about the issue at hand; and you can’t resolve conflicts without understanding each employee’s feelings. In all of these cases, you must listen to others.

Listening, really listening, is a truly demanding and complex activity, which offers the listener an opportunity for growth. When we truly listen to someone, when we hear not only the words, but also their importance to the speaker on an emotional level, we are transformed. By reflecting on another’s words, we come face-to-face with whom we are, and the assumptions and judgments we bring with us.

By listening in a way that demonstrates understanding and respect, you cause rapport to develop, and that is the true foundation from which you can sell, manage or influence others.

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”
– Ernest Hemingway

Following are some keys to listening well:

  1. Give 100% Attention: Prove you care by suspending all other activities.
  2. Respond: Responses can be both verbal and nonverbal (nods, expressing interest) but must prove you received the message, and more importantly, prove it had an impact on you. Speak at approximately the same energy level as the other person…then they’ll know they really got through and don’t have to keep repeating.
  3. Prove understanding: To say “I understand” is not enough. People need some sort of evidence or proof of understanding. Prove your understanding by occasionally restating the gist of their idea or by asking a question, which proves you know the main idea. The important point is not to repeat what they’ve said to prove you were listening, but to prove you understand. The difference in these two intentions, transmit remarkably different messages when you are communicating.
  4. Prove respect: Prove you take other views seriously. It seldom helps to tell people, “I appreciate your position” or “I know how you feel.” You have to prove it by being willing to communicate with others at their level of understanding and attitude. We do this naturally by adjusting our tone of vice, rate of speech and choice of words to show that we are trying to imagine being where they are at the moment.

“I think one lesson I have learned is that there is no substitute for paying attention.”
– Diane Sawyer

Listening to and acknowledging other people may seem deceptively simple, but doing it well, particularly when disagreements arise, takes true talent. As with any skill, listening well takes plenty of practice. When we listen, we find that, in the end, it is we who change. It is we who benefit from the opportunity to better understand the needs of those with whom we are interacting and in this way establish a meaningful connection.

Sally Stanleigh

Sally Stanleigh is a senior partner in Business Improvement Architects and the Chief Operating Officer. Sally manages the operation and develops and implements communications, marketing and promotion programs. She is also responsible for spearheading and managing the company's corporate research projects. Sally has a background in marketing and communications and previously worked as a senior product manager with multi-national corporations such as Colgate-Palmolive and Phillip Morris before founding Business Improvement Architects with her husband and partner, Michael Stanleigh. On occasion, Sally is asked by clients for help with business planning. She facilitates the planning process as a consultant and helps clients with the development of their marketing plans and programs. She has also presented to professional groups on such topics as: customer feedback systems, employee motivation, development of incentive programs and trends. You may contact her at sstanleigh@bia.ca.