Listen and you'll hear the sound of success

  • 2001-01-25
  • Paul E. Adams
It is when we listen that we learn. Yet many of us don't know how to. We're too busy talking. Our mouth gets in the way of our ears. Entrepreneurs with inflated egos are usually poor listeners with little interest in any opinion but their own.

Gabby and glib salespersons tend to be poor listeners. They are so intent on the sale they ignore their customers' comments. It's too bad they don't know that a one-way conversation is a monologue and a monologue is boring.

Early in my career with Capitol Records, while traveling with our sales force, I discovered that the salespersons who achieved their quotas were the ones who listened with a genuine interest in their customers' needs. I found that the high achievers spent more time on questions than slick presentations.

They understood that listening is the learning half of conversation and that you don't learn by listening to yourself. So, if you want to know what your customers think of your company, products or service - listen, they will tell you if you are smart enough to hear the message.

We learn from our employees if we are willing to hear them. Open- door policies are effective if honest, and we don't punish the messenger for bringing us bad news. It is easy to isolate ourselves from reality by not listening to any view but our own.

None of us like bad news, but no news or information can lead us to the wrong decision. Remember the 'new coke' debacle. Management refused to listen to those objecting to the change, until consumers refused to buy the new product. Enlightened management solicits information. It does not hide from it.

Successful leaders listen by observation. They study their business, they carefully observe the premise, employees, customers. They seek truth. They want to know how their business is faring. They understand that on site observation is listening. They look at the housekeeping of their business. Its appearance carries a strong message. They have learned the importance of paying attention to the conversation, attitude, and body language of their employees.

Recently, I discovered on the web the 'International Listening Association,' which is dedicated to helping us improve our listening skills. It even identifies tell-tale characteristics of those who don't listen. Here are a few. Are you guilty of any?

1.Interrupting the speaker.

2. Rushing the speaker.

3. Showing interest in something other than the conversation.

4. Getting ahead of the speaker and finishing his or her thoughts.

5. Not responding to the speaker's requests.

6. Saying, "Yes, but . . .," as if the listener has made up his mind.

7. Topping the speaker's story with "Let me tell you about..."

I know I am guilty of more than one. I believe that with awareness of these bad habits we can become better listeners. I am not suggesting a career in therapy to bring about a personality change, but conscious awareness that we just may not be listening with our ears and eyes the way we should.

More than one news commentator has remarked that President Clinton mastered the art of listening so much so that he makes everyone he is talking with feel important. If we learn how to make every customer, every employee, and every associate feel that they have our undivided attention and they are important to us. Think of the effect on customers and employees.

I think the art of listening starts with humility. To start with, slow down. If you don't have time to listen to the person you are chatting with, do it some other time, otherwise you are a bore. Next, get yourself off center stage. Just because you own the business, that doesn't mean you are infallible. Others have opinions and knowledge, too. Remember we learn from others, not ourselves. Listening may mean a change in attitude, a realization of humility - not easy to do.

But improving your listening skills is something you can do immediately. There are no costs, just benefits for you and your business. You will attract more customers, you will get more from your employees, and you will be building an insurance policy if trouble times should appear.

The next time you feel too busy to 'listen' or assume that the person speaking is unimportant and not worth listening to, think about this statement: "There are people who complain about the noise when opportunity knocks."