Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Listen with the Right Intent

Image courtesy of Unsplash | André Spieker
When you listen to customers or to employees, do you really listen? Or are you already anticipating your response or your reaction before they're finished talking?

Stephen R. Covey said:

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

Unfortunately, this is so true.

I previously wrote:  
When we think about a conversation, we typically understand that it has two parts: speaking and listening. It's a two-way street. I would actually add a third component: hearing. Yes, we talk; and yes, we say we listen. But do we actually hear what has been said? I think hearing requires a subsequent action or reaction. And in the customer conversation, that part is often missing.
When you listen, make sure you hear what is being said before you act or react. When you stop, listen, and really hear, you are better able to understand customers' (or employees', as this applies to both) needs and jobs they are trying to do, allowing you to better design for those jobs or to fulfill those needs. You're also better able to understand their questions or issues and address those or point customers in the right direction to get the issues resolved. In a timely manner.

Not only does hearing ensure you better understand but you may also discover that the customer is  saying more than you thought. The tone, pitch, or inflection of his voice or his body language (if you're seeing him in person) can tell you more than the words he is saying. Use those cues, combined with what is being said, to form your response - after the customer is finished talking. If you're ready to reply after his first sentence, you might be missing some things.

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said. -Peter Drucker

If you listen with the intent to reply, you don't hear everything that is being said. The focus of the conversation is singular rather than broader, perhaps opening up doors to other topics, features, sales, options, etc. If you listen with the intent to reply, you...
  • judge before you know all the facts
  • are disrespectful
  • analyze and prematurely form opinions
  • will misunderstand
  • miss opportunities
On the other hand, if you listen with the intent to understand, you open up the possibilities. Better yet, listen with intent to...
  • understand
  • clarify
  • show respect
  • let customers or employees know they are valued
  • improve the experience
  • connect 
  • hear
Use active listening as a way to show that you've heard what is being said. Active listening means that you paraphrase back to the person you're speaking with your understanding of what he just said to you. This exercise allows you to confirm not only what you heard but also what your understanding is. It can really help to avoid confusion.

Have you trained your frontline staff to listen with the right intent in their customer conversations? Do they use active listening? Are you hearing- really hearing - what your employees are saying to you?

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. -Bryant H. McGill


  1. Hi Annette,
    I think this is one of the biggest challenges that we face when communicating.......waiting for someone to finish so we can say what we want to say. There's no real communication there. It's only a battle of broadcasters.

    However, I'm not a really big fan of active listening either. I can see that it can be an interim step to better listening but it can still be 'gamed'.

    Personally, I'm a fan of just paying attention, really paying attention to the other person. To quieten our mind and focus our attention on them...to hear what they say, notice how they say, what they look like when they say what they say etc etc without thinking about paraphrasing or thinking about when is the most appropriate time to nod or say 'uhuh' etc etc.


    1. Adrian, I think you hit the nail on the head: waiting for someone to finish so we can say what we want to say. That waiting and our anticipated response stop us from really hearing the rest of what is being said. I admit. I'm guilty.

  2. I agree with Adrian, but quieting our mind is oh so difficult