Listening – A Critical Business Skill

exclamation-markKnow how to listen, and you will profit even from those who talk badly.

– Plutarch, Greek biographer and moralist.

 Experts may differ in their definition of business essentials.  I doubt many will dispute the importance of good listening skills to business success.  We live in an era of talkers, among people who love the sound of their own voices and those who see their vocal prowess as their ticket to fame.

However, every successful entrepreneur knows that business communication goes beyond talk to include listening, evaluation, response and action.  If your business involves any negotiation or sales then it is imperative that you make the effort to hone your listening skills.  Given the time constraint faced by busy clients, it is critical to maximize the contact time with them, and listening well is essential.

One of the challenges I face as a white paper writer and consultant is ensuring that I have a clear understanding of my client’s needs.  While research is important to obtaining project information, conversation with the stakeholders is still my preferred way to get the best “feel” for the client’s expectations.  The more my client can tell me during a conversation, the better my chances of matching their project objectives.  For me, active listening is mandatory.

I have found a few practices helpful in improving my one-on-one information gathering time with clients.  I hope you find the following tips beneficial to your business.

1.  Be prepared.  I have found that the more prepared I am before my conversation with a client the better I am at listening.  Being prepared helps me focus on the needs of the client and how best to serve them.  Prior preparation makes the conversation less of an effort and more of an opportunity for me to:

  • Clarify the objectives of the project
  • Fill any gaps in my research
  • Reinforce my company’s readiness to handle the tasks
  • Build rapport with the client.

2.  Ask questions.  Part of being prepared is to have enough information to fuel your inquiries.  I like to write out my questions in longhand and in the sequence that clarify and augment my research.  Writing out the questions saves me from worrying about impromptu phraseology.  I can then focus on speaking in an unrehearsed, natural tone during the conversation.  This works well especially for telephone conversations.  Here are a few other reasons why I prepare by asking questions:

  • If the meeting is about a favorite/familiar subject, having a set of questions handy keeps me from being overly talkative and getting off track.
  • If the topic is technical/complex,  questions help focus the discussion on fundamentals.  I have learned, over time, that practically all topics can be reduced to the “what”, “how”, and where” basics.
  • If the topic is controversial, then asking questions is an efficient way to manage the conversation along productive lines.

3.  Take notes.  This is probably a remnant of my graduate school days, but I am a self-professed list-maker.  It is a habit that has served me well in many situations.  Earlier on in my career, I learned that I could help my brain along by writing things down.  Equally important, in a face-to-face meeting with a client, note taking is an easy way to show the client that you are interested in the conversation.  I can also recall a few situations where the notes I took in a meeting came to my rescue (literally) in resolving project issues.  However, you cannot take useful notes unless you are a good listener.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but the louder the noise level in our social and business world, the more advantageous it is to be a good listener.  Honing your listening skills will improve your ability to serve your clients better and enhance your profile.

Just remember:

No man ever listened himself out of a job – Calvin Coolidge.

© Copyright Rachel Agheyisi and Report Content Writer’s Blog, 2009.


2 Responses

  1. Nice post! Thank you for sharing about LISTENING as a critical business skill. An entrepreneur should not only be good in talking but should also be a good listener so as to capture the type of service that the clients are looking for.

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