Business Critical: Listen-To-Understand

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I wrote an earlier article called Listening is Visual that was about a trip during my last corporate job to Florida to meet with some technical community leaders there. I had planned to do “the usual”: I had created a PowerPoint presentation that represented the bullet points I would talk to and would help guide the discussion.  However, there was no projector and no real place to project, anyway. So much for the presentation and what seemed like control of the meeting.

What originally looked like a standard meeting became much more valuable! The real listening, the responses, the dialogue that took place was really wonderful and very valuable. I came away with a great understanding of their passions and concerns.

Since that time I have made listen-to-understand my goal in every meeting.

…I cannot emphasize this enough…

As I continue to study and practice this foundational aspect of conversation, I gain further knowledge (from reading and investigation) and validation (through practice….and missing the boat many times…) of just how key it is to my business and my life. As a consultant, it is crucial to listen to clients and prospects….most every consultant knows that. However, it is incredibly easy to “listen-to-reply” in those kinds of meetings. When there is a potential for acquiring new business, I could be focused on how to respond to questions and concerns, instead of paying attention to what the prospect is ACTUALLY saying (including what they mean beyond what they say…). This is one big reason why many consultants prefer face-to-face meetings. It is visual and allows the entire experience of having a dialogue with another human being to be absorbed. I have a much easier time, for example, with eye contact and facial expressions when I am with someone, as opposed to a remote video solution. I am a true believer in the value of Human-to-Human (#H2H) business, so I feel this is a more authentic presence for all participants.

I just finished a terrific book entitled Brain Rules by John Medina. I will be drawing inspiration and guidance from it for quite awhile, but a high-level take-away for me is that the better I understand how our human brains actually work, the better I can understand myself and everyone around me. One impression I got from the book is that the brain takes in EVERYTHING and stores it pretty much EVERYWHERE. The more it has to take in, and the more enticing or memorable it is, the more likely it will be retained over time. Hence my preference for face-to-face. There is SO MUCH INPUT in those scenarios that the encounter and dialogue has a much better chance of “sticking” in memory and being recalled vividly (and, in a good way, what consultant doesn’t want to be recalled vividly ?). There are a number of other fascinating rules, not the least is about context, which is another key factor for memory and the subject of a future article.

So what?

What does this mean for you as a business person, and for your business? Well, it points out the extra work you have to do to listen well online…

Monitoring is not the same as listening. Many small businesses don’t, or barely, monitor what others say about them, about their products, about their employees, or about their competitors. Listening is a different level of awareness, and takes a level of mental discipline that many a business owner can’t muster during busy, busy days and nights.

Listening takes time and effort. Responding appropriately is even more work.

If you’re a solo-preneur, you are likely working so hard to get your business off the ground that you feel that you don’t have the time to do it right, so you don’t do it at all….I mean, you have to sleep sometime, right? Yet if you’re not listening, how can you possible know what your customers are saying (and feeling…) about you and your product or service?

I’ve been to a number of events and webinars in the past couple of years that have been about some aspect of listening: from the sales angle, from the automation angle, from the leadership and management angle, and many that just try to raise the awareness of the criticality of listening for professionals. Either this is just a lucrative line for consultants and coaches, or businesses REALLY SUCK at it, and are looking for answers. It’s probably a bit of both…

Hearing about it through training, reading about it, and the like is much easier than actually doing it, since that involves personal awareness and change, and, just as hard, corporate culture change .

Start someplace simple. Actually “listen-to-understand” the next time you have a conversation with a friend or loved one. Don’t let yourself fall into old conversational patterns with them. Allow space between what they say and what you eventually say. Get ready to fail regularly, but watch for the small steps and successes, too. The next morning at work, when you have that one-to-one with your manager or with one of the employees as they are headed out the door for deliveries and sales calls, listen. Time may or may not allow you to respond, but you can begin to understand.

Dialogue, which is what can happen in a real conversation, may not arrive at a conclusion initially, but the value to the relationship and the business is too high to be ignored.

Give it a shot. Tell me how it works for you.


Here are some great resources for you to check out:


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