Listen up, or run the risk of missed opportunities

Phil Castle

I’ve always considered myself a good listener. I’m a listener by trade, in fact. A big part of my job is to pose questions and listen to the answers. It’s crucial not only in accurately gathering and reporting information, but also discerning when even more important information might be available for the asking.

I long ago lost track of how many times I went into an interview expecting one thing and coming away with something different and almost always better. Because I was carefully listening, I was prepared to steer the interview on a new course. As curious journalists discover, everyone has a compelling story to tell. Few tell them for lack of someone to listen.

I’m not bragging here so much as asserting the importance of listening. Consider the joke about the guy who said his wife complained he had only two faults: He didn’t listen … and something else.

All kidding aside, there’s nothing funny about people who don’t listen. It’s not only rude, but also costly. Costly for business owners and managers in terms of discouraging employees. But also costly in terms of missing out on potentially lucrative opportunities.

There’s no franchise on good ideas. Employees who make products, deliver services and interact with customers have some of the best ideas of all. It’s likely they’ve thought about ways to improve existing products and services as well as develop new products and services. It’s just a matter of asking them. And then, for goodness sake, listening.

Some people mistakenly believe good listening is matter of keeping quiet while others talk, nodding occasionally and then repeating what’s been said. Others don’t even pretend to listen anymore. They’re more engaged with their phones.

The Harvard Business Review analyzed information from nearly 3,500 participants in a development program for managers to identify what were perceived as the differences between great and average listeners.

According to the findings, good listening isn’t so much about shutting up while others talk, but posing questions that provoke insight and discovery. Good listening also affords as a supportive experience and results in suggestions and different ways to consider ideas and topics.

Marcus Straub, a business coach and consultant who operates Life is Great Coaching in Grand Junction, ably asserts in his columns in the Business Times successful business operations depend on effective communication.

The problem, Straub says, is people don’t listen to understand. They listen to reply. They think about how they’ll respond, the advice they’ll offer or how to shift the conversation to their experiences or perspectives. They’re missing the very thing people value most — to feel heard and understood.

I’m no expert on listening. I don’t even play one on TV. But as a journalist, I can attest to the value of listening and what happens when people realize someone really does want to hear what they have to say. I suspect most business owners and managers experience the same thing. If they don’t,  maybe they should listen.