Is it time to shut up and listen?

This week Zeeshan Shah heard the inevitable words, ‘You’re Fired’ as he was booted off the BBC’s ‘The Apprentice’. Few disputed Lord Sugar’s decision. Shah had to go because he was the Project Manager on the losing team. His team lost because Shah knew it all and was too arrogant to listen to other people’s ideas. The episode really brought home how important listening skills are in business.

Line art of a screech owl.

A wise owl knows how to listen.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You probably know the poem:

“A wise old owl sat on an oak;
The more he saw the less he spoke;
The less he spoke the more he heard;
Why aren’t we like that wise old bird?”

The wise old owl knew a thing or two about listening. Listening is such a vital skill it’s worth making an effort to perfect it. If we don’t listen effectively how will we understand our customers, our prospects, our staff or our nearest and dearest?

As American chat show host Larry King said, ‘I never learned anything whilst I was talking.’ So why do so many people think they need to talk all the time? Try talking and listening at the same time, it’s even more difficult than rubbing the tummy and patting the head in unison! What right do we have to do all the talking? I get particularly cross with those people who ask a question and then carry on talking without waiting for an answer.

Effective communication is a two way process and in most instances it requires active participation and an exchange of information by both parties. Listening effectively is hard to do. According to research we think at between 500 and 800 words per
minute and yet we speak at just 125 to 130! The natural tendency is to let our brains wander instead of listening properly. We might be contemplating what we’re going to eat or do in the evening; we may be thinking about our shopping or to do lists; we may be planning our response. We may be thinking that the speaker is an idiot! Whatever else we are doing we are not fully concentrating on the message.

We may also fail to listen because, like Zeeshan, we think we know it all, that we have nothing more to learn. Wrong! There is always something we can learn. Sometimes we need to be reminded of something we once knew but have forgotten.

If we don’t focus on our listening we can miss something really important. It might be the clue that allows us to make a big sale. It might be a cry for help. It might be our light bulb moment. But if we’re not listening we’ll miss it!

The advantages of developing acute listening skills are tremendous in life in general and in business. Very few people are really good at listening so an exceptional listener can give a business a competitive advantage. It is by listening carefully that we know what our customers really want and can tailor our sales pitch to show them how we can deliver. It is by listening carefully that we can hear the message our staff want us to hear and take appropriate action before a major problem develops. It is by listening carefully that we can spot business development opportunities.

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”

Ernest Hemmingway

So I’m off to listen with a bit more care and attention. I wonder what new discoveries await me? What about you, will you spend just a bit more time listening?

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