7 Tips to Become a More Effective Listener

Sept. 25, 2019

How to get the most out of your interactions with customers

Whether in the boardroom, showroom, or at the dinner table, communication is inescapable. Almost anyone can communicate their needs and wants, but not everyone has the ability to listen. Brian Sump, owner of Avalon Motorsports and Urban Autocare in Denver and a co-pastor, jokes, “You have two ears and one mouth⁠—use them proportionally.” 

The way you interact with customers and coworkers speaks volumes to how you do business, Sump says. At the end of the day, most shops provide similar products and services and what sets them apart is not their showrooms, but their dedication to customer satisfaction. If a client doesn’t feel as though he or she is being heard, he or she will take his or her business and trust elsewhere. Being an effective listener is vital to make the most of your connections, and in some cases, even save them.

“When you listen to them, that’s when they get what they paid for and you get what you came for,” says Jan Fox, a public speaker and coach. 

Ratchet+Wrench spoke with Sump and Fox on what it means to be an engaged listener and how to ensure both parties are satisfied. Here are their secrets of the trade. 

Stop talking.

This step may seem obvious, but a reminder never hurts. When listening to a coworker or a client, you need to put your own motives aside to take in what he or she says. 

Sump says he trains his employees not to speak until the client has said their full peace. 

“Let five seconds of silence go by before you begin to speak to make sure they have said all that they wanted to say,” he says. 

Fox says the most important thing you can do as a speaker is to listen to your audience. Furthermore, do not fear confrontational conversations, she says. 

Meet them where they are. 

Fox uses the acronym “EVA,” which stands for empathy, validation and advocacy. When you empathize with the speaker, he or she knows they are being heard, which Fox says is half the battle. A simple, “I hear you, that must have been so frustrating,” goes a long way, Fox says. 

Validating their thoughts and experiences with, “I’ve been there, too,” is just as vital, because it sets a precedence for how you conduct business. Lastly, is advocacy⁠, where a compromise is met and the customer is assured that you have their best interest at heart. 

“We can work this out,” says Fox. 

By employing these three devices, the speaker feels acknowledged, understood and, hopefully, assuaged.

 There are a variety of ways to go about this. For example, Sump uses a similar technique called “feel, felt, found.” Based on the same principles, “feel, felt, found” ensures that the speaker is recognized, given the attention that he or she deserves, and a solution will be found in the end. 

Be cognizant. 

Fox calls it “being on target” when both the listener and the speaker are engaged in a conversation. 

“How does Taylor Swift know she is on target?” asks Fox. “She checks her bank account.” 

Being on target during a one-on-one conversation is not as easily identified. Fox says to take cues from body language to decipher how your message is being received. 

“If their voice has a spark and their eyes are lighting up, you know you’re on target,” Fox says. 

If they’re detached, on their phone, or distracted, then you’ve veered off target and need to get back. 

Sump says he has taken a less traditional approach and begun to avoid direct eye contact when talking one-on-one with someone. 

“Looking someone directly in the eye can intimidate them and cause them to lose their focus,” Sump says. “I have started looking at the bridge of people’s noses and you would not believe the difference it makes.” 

Regardless of how you approach it, the body is often easier to read than the voice, and that is why it is important to be aware of your surroundings.

Be mindful of your diction. 

The more you say “I,” the less it is about the customer and the more it is about you, Sump says. By bringing the conversation back to yourself, you ignore what your client or employee needed to get off their chest. This is not to say that your own thoughts are not important, but there is a time to respond and a time to listen. 

In addition to that, Fox says the word “but” is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Anything you say after the, “yeah, but” invalidates what the speaker just said. 

“It means she or he is not being heard,” Fox says. 

Being cognizant of your language is not as straightforward as being aware of your surroundings, but with practice, empathy and self-awareness, it is more than doable.

Get to the heart of the conversation. 

“What is the purpose of him or her having my ear? Is it purely social, a crisis, or something else?” Sump asks. 

By assessing the purpose of the conversation, you can better gauge what kind of resolution, if any, the speaker may want. 

Sump says when it comes to being a co-pastor, people aren’t always looking for feedback. A lot of the time, they are just in need of a trusted ear to whom to vent. This is why it is imperative to put your own reactions second tier to what the other person says. 

Don’t build a case. 

“We listen and we build [new information] on top of our last interaction,” Fox says. “I try not to build a case. I try to make it fresh and only respond with what I am experiencing in the moment.”

Building a case is often subconscious, but when we have similar interactions with the same co-workers or customers, it is difficult not to attribute the same results to the current situation. 

Being able to recognize when you’re entering an unfair headspace is half the solution. The other half is being able to put those inclinations aside. Because, by treating new information with the biases of old information, you forfeit an opportunity for compromise and growth. With that being said, you shouldn’t disregard how past interactions have gone; instead, rather than letting those cloud your judgement, use it to further inform the current conversation, Fox says. 

Follow up.

Being an effective listener is not a one-interaction accolade. According to Fox, the way to truly succeed as an effective listener, your capacity for empathy needs to extend beyond the initial interaction. Follow up by email or by phone to check in and make sure the other party is still satisfied. This is how you show employees that you value their skillset and how you show customers that you value their business. Furthermore, it is a testament to your company and your dedication to others, Sump says.

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