Media and Crisis Management
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Media and Crisis Management

Listening! A vital communications skill

Posted on: July 29th, 2012

Presentations: Listening! A vital communications skillLeadership skills

A while back ago two TV news anchors ran a story that Keiko the killer whale – star of the “Free Willy” movies – was being set free in Iceland. As the TV piece ended, one anchor adlibbed that Keiko seemed smart enough to be in films. The second anchor, in all seriousness, agreed. Keiko should be in pictures!

Think about it. Two newscasters run a story about film star Keiko and then suggest Keiko ought to be in films. Finally someone off-camera tells the anchors through their earpieces that Keiko had already been infilms, three of them. The incident suggested they were not listening to their own words, their own newscast!

Keiko has died since that original anecdote, but the incident is still instructive.

Not listening was an embarrasing faux pas in this case, but in the business world not listening can hit you in the wallet. To best serve customers– and make more money –you must truly hear what they want and need. In short, it pays to pay more attention to clients than to yourself.

Want to listen better? 
Here are some tips from consultant Alan Weiss.
Weiss is the East Greenwich, Rhode Island author of the successful “Million Dollar Consulting” and 8 other books. A professional speaker, Weiss has addressed crowds in 51 countries and 49 states and lists Mercedes Benz, Merck, Hewlett Packard, and GE among his clients. I talked with Weiss for this column. These are his thoughts:

Listening is a critical business skill.

Entrepreneurs and small business people have a particular problem listening. They are more interested in convincing others how good they are rather than in hearing what a client needs. That is a serious mistake because clients will not change their behavior unless there is something in it for them. They will not buy your product or services unless it is in their rational self-interest. Knowing their self-interest requires that you listen. Talking won’t do it.

Weiss recommends four techniques to develop your listening skills:

Listening Tip #1 – Ask provocative questions

Avoid simple questions such as “What do you do?” “How do you operate?” “How does your sales force function?” “Who have you used in the past?” Instead, ask something provocative and then shut up and listen. Some examples: “What is the hardest part of your job?” “What gives you the most difficulty?” “What worries you the most?” “What is the best part of your operation?” With such questions you compel clients to reveal critical information that you must have to match your services to their needs.

Listening Tip #2 –Listen reflectively

This is also known as active listening. As the client answers your provocative questions, about every 60 to 90 seconds say “uh-huh,” “I see”, or simply paraphrase the client. Weiss said he once did that for 45 minutes with a client who then said, “You are the first consultant who truly understands my business.”

Listening Tip #3 – Echo the talker

Weiss credits consultant Jeff Slutsky for this one. Repeat the last word of what the person just said to you. The client says, “We are having trouble at the office.” You say “Office?” Repeat the last word frequently and the client will continue to talk.

Listening Tip #4 – Ask turnaround questions

When someone asks you what your company does, instead of giving a long-winded description, briefly say, for example, “I help companies deal with crises in the public eye.” When the client asks how you do that, you say, “Tell me how your business operates and I will tell you how what I do could benefit you.” When a client asks, “What can you do for us?” You say, “I don’t know.” When they say, “You don’t know?” you respond with “I don’t know enough about your company to be able to tell you what we can do for you. Tell me what your biggest challenge is.” Now you will get information that allows you to offer your services or product in a way that fulfills the client’s rational self-interest.

I have one suggestion of my own.

Amme listening tip – Look into the eyes
Having struggled with good listening myself, I have found that leaning forward and looking squarely into the eyes of your client focuses your attention on their comments. Because your senses isolate on your client, it is difficult for your mind to wander. Furthermore, your body language signals intense interest. Your actions encourage more talking.

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