Not too long ago I was part of the corporate ladderati. And as part of it, there was this major urge to always be right. Or at least be seen as being right. The acceptance of your ideas, your success, appraisals and eventually, climb up the ladder depended on this.
So it was important to be heard and hence, to speak out. Emphatically. Assertively. Even loudly, sometimes.
As an entrepreneur, I’ve had a complete overhaul of this behaviour. I now listen much much more. It’s been a tough one to learn, though.
The urge to prove oneself right and butt into a sentence, a conversation or a thought process is still there, but I’ve learned to try and control this and listen first instead. This has happened over time as I worked with those who have been entrepreneurs much longer and in a much deeper sense than I have. They clearly had their own take, know a lot more about a lot more, but in conversations between us, were all ears. And not just for the effect – there usually were enough follow up questions till they clearly understood what we were saying or sharing.
Seriously, the ability to listen is a very important one as an entrepreneur, salesperson, leader. It is true even for your personal relationships!
Listening helps you get better. Continuously.
When you’re running a business, you’re inevitably doing a bunch of things wrong – if you aren’t you’re probably stagnating and that’s what you’re doing wrong 🙂 This also changes over time since what was true yesterday might not be so anymore. So you got to listen – to customers, vendors, employees, others who started out much after you with fresh insights.
Over time, you learn to listen, gather, sift through feedback and comments and create your own agenda and action items out of these. Your focus is on learning – from anyone, any incident and any opportunity, and applying it as you see fit. You might know better or more, but while you’re listening, it’s unimportant and indeed counter-productive to think of that and definitely pointless to assert that – first get what they’re saying, understand it. Judging it doesn’t serve any purpose for you, and you soon get focused on “what can I pick up or learn from this” rather than rushing in to pronounce it wrong or right.
It’s magical how much and how freely people will tell you. And truly liberating to be able to make the best use of it for yourself 🙂
Listening helps you work with people
One of the biggest strengths an entrepreneur can develop is the ability to work with as diverse a set of people – and motivations – as possible. It helps to listen to them – even beyond the words and understand them for intent and anxiety – and address needs and fears from their point of view. You can hardly create a win-win unless you first understand what the win is for the other guy, right?
Once you open your mind and try and understand and rationalize what you hear rather than immediately put it in buckets, it helps you work with different sets of motivations, ambition, needs, address them and quickly discover and focus on the positives and mutual benefits of working together.
This is important whether you are hiring someone, trying out vendors or striking a partnership. Even within your organization, as you grow your team, you cannot hope to empower them, delegate well and create a sense of ownership if you’re not even listening to them well enough.
It’s always much more productive when you work with people, not just have them work for you.
Listening helps you Sell better
A lot of selling this today is consultative. People seem to buy things and services but they’re truly buying something to fulfil a need they have.
And listening to them will often reveal that precise need that you can then talk about solving through what you have to offer, or perhaps realize is something you cannot address and optimize your effort!
The most important skill in selling in indeed listening!
Listening shows that you care. Everyone likes that
Whether it’s the customer who feels good that you’re listening to them, or your wife, or parents, or kids – everyone likes being heard, and paid honest attention to. Relationships of any sort are built upon not just mutual benefit, but mutual concern and the fact that you’ll look out for each other. It’s as true for business partners and employees as it is in our personal lives.
Listening is an essential starting point for doing this. Of course you need to follow up with actions, but that’s obviously not much help if you’re not acting on the right things.
Do try this one at home – there’s no risk 🙂 Check yourself when you have the urge to be right and first listen, digest what you heard, think about it before you rush into a reaction. It helps you learn, it makes the other person’s needs and intent clearer and it tells them you truly care for what they think.
Listening well is very nearly the magical silver bullet, if there ever was one.