In communications we most often focus on the need to convey a message in the how, why, where and what of what we are trying to tell or sell to others. The real art of communications lay in listening. It is said that we absorb only 50% of what we hear and as time passes from the event our remembrance reduces by another 25%.
As communicators we are responsible for conveying more than one point of view for more than one target group at a time, and always it includes the needs of the client. Communication is impossible to do well without embracing the art of listening.
The act of conscious listening is called Active Listening, but I like to think of true hearing as Open Listening. Active engagement in Open Listening focuses on opening yourself up to all of the ways you communicate and another communicates to you. Open Listening with your client, your target market or your colleagues, will help you identify their needs, challenges, fears and desires and make them feel like they have truly been heard. It will also provide you with the information you need to serve their communications needs most effectively.
What does it mean to listen openly? We have modems for gathering information, surveys, focus groups, posts, comments and ‘likes’, to name a few, but is information gathering the be-all, end-all to listening? If you are like me, when a client is speaking about what they want to achieve or communicate, my mind can go into overdrive preparing questions, strategies and solutions before they have even stopped speaking. When that happens, I know I have may have missed some salient points of interest and/or other communication cues shared by my speaker.
When one Open Listens, one must have a quiet mind, be patient and refrain from speaking back, even in the advent of a long pause. Since we think faster than we speak or hear, we must trust that all of our questions and ideas will be available to us once the speaker has concluded and focus completely on what they are saying.
Open Listening asks us to keep our eyes trained on the speaker and to be a generous listener. Keep the pace of your breathing moderate, your demeanor responsive, and the interest you show engaged. Assume a relaxed posture and soft face. You may nod periodically to communicate the speaker is being heard but do not vocalize agreement or disagreement. If you need to take brief notes do, but stay focused on the speaker writing without losing eye contact. Wait patiently for the speaker’s ideas to be fully concluded.
Open Listening is with your eyes, not just your ears. Body language is a key communicator of ideas. You may gauge the speaker’s level of anxiety, or understanding of an issue, even their confidence in you to understand and to help, by the way they hold their body, use their hands or focus on you. Look for subtle and not so subtle cues to prepare for a substantive and supportive response.
Open Listening means taking time before speaking. Wait a beat or two before you respond to a statement or question. Ask questions that may help further define the need, challenge or message of your client. Questions should be those that open the thought process for your client like, ‘What do you believe is the main idea that you want to communicate?’ or, ‘What do you think the real issue is?’ or ‘What would you want to hear to change your perception?’ The answers you receive may not be ones that help you build the perfect messaging campaign but will reveal to you more about your client and guide you in serving their needs better.
Open Listening requires you to ask the speaker if you have heard them correctly. Ask for confirmation regarding what you are hearing with questions such as, “What I am hearing you say is…. Is that accurate?” or “What I think you are saying is….Correct?”
Open Listening means listening even when speaking. Be aware of your client’s body language as you speak. Stay engaged with your eyes. Focus on your client as a group, if there is more than one in a room with you, and with each individually. Open Listening invites response and questions to your input. Respond to input without judgment or defensiveness.
Open Listening is an auditory, visual and physical partnership in communication. It is the key to understanding your client and serving their communication needs as well as their desires.
In 2013, make a New Year’s resolution to engage in Open Listening with your clients, your colleagues and even your friends and family. It’s a skill that will be appreciated by all and provide you with the tools and information you need to be an effective and desired communications professional.