You learn by listening, not by speaking
Published in The Tennessean April 21, 2014
By Ed Rappuhn – SCORE Nashville
“What is the most important skill I need to be successful in business?”
Ask a dozen successful business people and you might get a dozen answers; but I say LISTENING.
There is a big difference in hearing and listening. Hearing happens when a bird chirps; you likely don’t even notice. Listening is a conscious effort to pay attention to what you hear. Have you ever noticed yourself preparing for what you will say next while ignoring the other person in a conversation? If so you aren’t communicating. You will likely miss what the other person values.
To listen well goes beyond the words you hear. Listen for inflection and non-verbal communication such as body language. “That’s great” could be understood two completely different ways depending on the way it’s said.
One method to ensure good communication is “active listening.” Here you restate what the speaker has said by paraphrasing what you heard. This demonstrates you are listening and confirms mutual understanding. Don’t do this on every exchange, but only when there is a possibility of misunderstanding or when there is great importance to what has been said.
You learn when you listen, not when you speak. Other people’s ideas and experiences can help you make better business decisions. Listen to speakers talking about their business successes (or failures). Opportunities to hear such stories are plentiful and often free. Whenever possible, take notes to help improve your listening. This helps you concentrate on what is being said and remember important facts.
You can develop good listening skills. Twitter feeds in 140 characters, Instagram, text messaging, and Headline News, are all examples of quick-hit communications. If you want to become a good listener, you need to practice and focus your attention for longer than five or ten seconds. Try this exercise: Set a timer for 3 minutes and ask someone to tell you about his or her childhood. You listen and say nothing until the timer rings. You’ll be surprised how difficult this is.
Communication is a two-way street. You obviously need to be able to tell someone about your product and service, but that is only half the battle. Actually it’s the easy half. More importantly, you must listen to the other person and understand what is important to him or her. Only when you truly listen to someone does the information you provide back make a difference.
If you truly engage in a conversation and allow the other person to speak freely, without interruption, they will leave the encounter with a stronger opinion of you. That can only enhance your business relationships.
Ed Rappuhn is a mentor, workshop facilitator, and the past-chair of SCORE Nashville. SCORE mentors guide entrepreneurs in starting and growing their businesses. Sign up for a free SCORE mentor, find out about our reasonably priced workshops and other services, or volunteer to become a SCORE member at www.scorenashville.org. Email questions about your business to firstname.lastname@example.org and watch for the answers in future columns.