The Importance of Listening

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How many times in your life have you been fortunate enough to have a sales person visit you and they focus on themselves and not you?  How many times has a sales person tried to solve your perceived issues without actually asking you relevant questions?  How many times has a sales person been the most vocal in a meeting and attempted to drive you down a path that would benefit them, and not you or your organization?

My name is John Postorino and I am a reformed interrupter.  In my youth I was always the one who thought I had the answer to everyone’s problems, without at times even hearing what they had to say.  I knew it all and was not shy about sharing my ideas, anecdotes, or solutions with anyone and everyone who would listen.  I was very proud of myself and knew I had the world in the grasp of my hands. 

This was great until as a young United States Marine I was being sent to recruiting duty, and was going to be tasked with convincing young adults to spend a significant portion of their immediate future in places not on a “must visit” vacation list, or doing things in most cases not a lot of people want to do.  It was here I learned the value of listening.  Not sitting and being completely quiet, not smiling and nodding when things were said, not trying to solve something that at times did not need to be solved, but truly listening.

Preparing for this duty provided an opportunity to attend classes solely focused on interactive listening.  Listening is a communication skill most people feel they have mastered, but truly have no idea what it involves.  It was here I realized I was listening deficient and did not know what listening really meant.  I knew I needed to change, or I would not be successful in my next tour.  What I did not know was how important listening would be in the remainder of my life.  In business, relationships, and parenting listening is key.

Listening is providing your undivided attention to a speaker and asking questions to continue to probe for extra information.  Asking relevant questions at opportune times demonstrates your ability to hear what a person is saying and instills a sense of confidence in your speaker. Proving to your potential customer you understand what is being discussed and you want to assist them in achieving success.  Not immediately controlling the conversation and talking about you and what you have, but more importantly hearing what your Customer needs and asking if you can help. 

The focus of the conversation needs to be directed towards the speaker and nothing else.  By treating the speaker with complete focus you are validating what they are saying, you are actively participating in their story, and you are helping them with self-esteem and treating them with unaltered attentiveness.  This reinforces a sense of comfort, reduces barriers, and provides a sense of calm.  In my opinion, this is the most critical aspect of communication and the most overlooked. 

If a person can master solid interactive listening skills successes can be achieved, relationships can be built, and communication can be bi-directional.  Each participant in the conversation can view the dialog as non-competitive and create an environment where specific topics are not off limits.  You earn the position of trusted advisor.  You become a resource where a customer can bounce ideas off and create an atmosphere of mutual understanding.   

I was fortunate enough to learn the importance of listening when told to by the Marine Corps but have used the information in almost every conversation I have had since then, resulting in more successes than failures.  Open the lines of communication and always, always remember you are not the most important person in the room.

John Postorino MS, MA, LSSBB, CSM, PMP is the Managing Partner at McGlaun Consulting.