“Of all the skills of leadership, listening is the most valuable—and one of the least understood. Most captains of industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few, the great ones, never stop listening. That’s how they get word before anyone else of unseen problems and opportunities.”
— Peter Nulty
National Business Hall of Fame, Fortune Magazine
Good things happen when you pay attention. New insights are gained while ideas and problems may be heard and more appropriately resolved or brought to life. As a leader, you can learn exponentially more about your clients, your staff and your business as a whole by simply stopping the chatter and listening. Of course, there are key differences between hearing others and actually listening to them. The latter is crucial and characterized by carefully taking into account what you are hearing, providing eye contact, and incorporating feedback every now and then to ensure what you’re hearing isn’t going in one ear and out the other.
With the help of social media and mobile technology, we are now in the age of instant communication. Everyone is anxious to be heard and communicate what’s on his or her mind via status updates, tweets, pins and posts – so much so that they often lose sight of the value that can be gained from taking pause and listening.
But who should you really be listening to and when? Well, the best leaders never stop. We understand, however, the reality that this simple concept can feel like a serious challenge, so we’ve provided you with some major areas to focus on, hand-in-hand with listening tips to help get you on the right track:
Listen to your team: You hired your employees because they are experts in what they do. It is crucial, then, that you take the time to listen to what they have to say. The less you talk and the more you stop to ask questions and listen, the more fit you will be to handle internal issues as well as come up with innovative solutions as a team for client projects. In addition, when your employees feel they have a voice and a greater purpose within the company, morale will inevitably improve and, therefore, so will productivity.
How? Make a conscious effort to ask for your employees’ insights regularly. When one of your staff members provides an innovative idea or interesting opinion, later acknowledge that idea in a public manner. Schedule check-ins with your employees to see what could be improved about their jobs, and actually utilize their feedback to create positive change at the workplace. Lastly and simply, create an environment that allows for openness between your employees and their leaders.
Listen to your customers: Deep dialogue with customers can pay off through increased trust and loyalty. Your customers want to feel understood and cared for, and this can be easily obtained by taking the time to listen to their needs. Additionally, from a big picture perspective, you can market or sell your product or service until you’re blue in the face, but if you haven’t taken the customers’ desires into account, your efforts may be ineffective. There is much to learn from your target audience and great potential for increased sales and opportunities.
How? Through social media, emails and in-person meetings, take note of any product or service you consistently hear your customers mention they’d prefer to purchase from you that you’re not already offering. Find out where your target is making noise online, and ensure your company has a voice on those channels – whether it be via blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or LinkedIn, make sure you’re creating conversations where your target is. Ask questions during your customer meetings and calls – Is there anything technologically that you could be doing to make your service easier for them? Is your message resonating with your customer base? Is it clear what you are offering, and are you meeting their needs?
Listen to your competitors: Maintaining awareness of what other successful leaders in your industry are doing is a great way to stay in the loop and seize new opportunities. Finding out what works and what doesn’t for others in your industry allows you to adapt to the latest trends and make educated business decisions. Listening is all about discovering possible risks, tools and benefits that can impact your business’s present and future — don’t neglect that.
How? Follow similar businesses via your social media outlets, sign up for their newsletters, and take a look at their websites regularly. Watch the ones that grow and the one’s that don’t – and take time to understand why. This will ensure that you’re on top of market shifts and will provide great amounts of insight for the future. Additionally, make sure to subscribe to industry news and keep up with the latest technology in your market to preserve your competitive edge.
Listen to your family and friends: Listening isn’t just meant for the office. Make the effort to actively listen to your family and friends outside of the workplace too. The more you practice listening out of the office, the better you’ll be able to listen to your team, clients and competition while in the office. Moreover, active listening can reduce conflict in and out of the home – after all, your ears will never get you into trouble!
How? Take genuine interest in what your support system has to say. Look them in the eye when they speak, and put the mobile devices away. Taking it a step further, repeat back to your friends and family what you heard to ensure you’ve really taken it all in for later reference.
Being a great listener takes practice and commitment. The best leaders never stop listening and learning. One final piece of wisdom: actively seek out opinions of those whom you don’t agree with and listen to those from varying backgrounds than your own. Some will oppose you, some will challenge you, but some may even change you!
In what ways has listening helped you, in or out of the office?