There are a lot of differing opinions about what good listening really means, let alone what it can do for your business. In one camp, good listening simply means not speaking over others when they are talking. While others think listening is about verbal acknowledgement. And there are those who wait until the speaker is done, then promptly repeat everything back to them. But are any of these really impactful, productive ways of listening?
This kind of one-dimensional listening falls short for many reasons. It isn’t what great listeners are actually doing – good listening is more than a one-way exchange. Saying “I understand” sometimes just isn’t enough. Especially in a world ripe with distractions. In fact, many argue that technological advances have made impactful listening increasingly rare.
Face-to-face conversations aren’t as common, and people’s levels of attention, engagement, and interaction have decreased because of constant emails, texts, and other device-produced distractions. Even when two people find themselves face-to-face, they are often not fully engaged.
But good listening – dynamic, thought-provoking, empathetic, free of distraction – is powerful. Giving energy to people, encouraging creativity, learning, innovation, problem solving, strengthening relationships, and helping people see things through a different lens is key to business today. Here’s why.
How We Listen
At Emotive Brand, our work requires effective listening. In order to get to the heart of our client’s business problems and help get leadership teams aligned around an impactful strategy, we need to be great listeners. It’s how we understand a business, its current situation, where it needs to go, and why. It’s also how we work effectively as a team to collaborate and create the most impactful strategy that will move our client’s businesses forward.
Here are some practices we’ve adapted that help foster good listening:
1. Asking questions:
Productive listening is about creating a two-way dialog. And this requires asking questions. Asking questions can generate new ways of thinking, foster creativity, challenge long-held assumptions, and fuel real, transformative change for businesses.
A lot of our work at EB is about asking questions – especially at the beginning stages. By listening, absorbing, and posing questions that move the conversation further, we move closer and closer to getting to the depth of business problems and creating solutions tailored for success.
2. Creating a supportive environment:
Productive listening hinges on creating an environment where both parties feel safe, especially when conversations are more complex. Making everyone involved feel safe and confident in voicing their individual opinions requires building trust and openness.
Listening becomes more productive the more you do it well. And often, the more someone feels listened to, the more they open up.
3. Making it collaborative, not competitive:
Listening should be part of a feedback flow not a competition about who’s right. It’s important to be willing to disagree as a listener, but it’s not about winning. It’s about coming to the best conclusion together through productive listening.
4. Putting away distractions:
Eye contact can go a long way. Sometimes, it’s necessary to put away cellphones and laptops in order to really be engaged during listening. The gesture itself makes a cue to people that you are fully present and really care about what they are saying.
5. Using nonverbal cues:
That being said, body language is key to successful listening. An open posture can indicate that you are open to listen and engage. On the flip side, cues like crossed arms or wandering eyes do not foster good listening.
6. Showing empathy:
Showing empathy is arguably the most important element of successful listening. It’s natural to disagree, but showing that you are trying to understand something from another person’s perspective can go a long way. You may even expand your own way of thinking. Seeing alternative paths and considering other opinions can foster innovation and creativity as well.
In our work at EB, we strive to get inside the minds and hearts of our clients and all of their integral audiences to really understand what’s going on. And showing empathy while we listen to these different perspectives is key to our success as brand strategists.
The Power of Listening in Business
Depending on the depth of the conversation at hand, different levels of listening engagement are needed in order to be productive. Good listeners know when to pull closer and also when to pull away. Sometimes, an affirmative nod is all that is needed. Other times, it’s more complicated. And knowing when to use these practices takes just that, practice.
Listening is a key part of how we do business, but it applies to every business – internally and externally. Good listening can lead to a more collaborative, productive, and inspired workplace. Businesses who listen to their outside audiences prove to be more successful because they understand their audiences, can adapt according to their shifting needs, and are constantly engaging to make the brand relationship stronger. Foster good listening skills to build a successful business and brand positioned to thrive.
Emotive Brand is a San Francisco brand strategy agency.