How do you know when you’re really listening?

Subir Chowdhury

Real listening involves hearing. Observing and understanding the problem is too. Many people just pretend to listen.

After I attended a meeting with a client, I asked him if he understood what one of the participants had been talking about. I had to prod him but he finally admitted to me that he did not have a clue. I asked him why he did not speak up and ask questions.

His answer unfortunately did not surprise me. He told me he was afraid he would lose face with his colleagues, that he would not appear smart enough. This man’s ego and pride got in the way he had heard the conversation. He just forgot to listen.

Smart and accomplished people know what they don’t know. They listen, and if they still don’t understand they speak up and ask questions.

There are many ways of listening, not all of which rely on just your two ears.

One involves leaving the safety of your office. I’ve given this advice to people repeatedly. Don’t expect people to come to you. Go to where the action is, whether that’s the factory floor or the stores that stock and sell your products, and listen.

When working with a food manufacturer I was amazed to hear that the CEO had never visited a grocery store. Neither had anyone on his executive team. How can you improve your product or service if you don’t know how it is purchased or sold?

After convincing them to go to where the action was, they were amazed by what they learned. Once they started listening to customers, they were able to make decisions that moved the company forward.

They were able to be the difference. I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who don’t do this.

Just because you have good hearing does not mean you are listening. The difference lies in understanding the other person’s needs.


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