Successful entrepreneurs, and people in general, know how to listen. Lean management and entrepreneurship speak about “the business is out there”, or “get out of the office”. I always thought this meant “get out and sell”, but once I actually “got out there”, I learned a valuable lesson. It’s not about selling, it’s about listening. You’re a startup and you are trying to find what to sell. Listening is an important part of being an entrepreneur (and a salesperson).
1 – Spend your time trying to get your point across?
2 – Try to prove you are right or correct?
3 – Spend time talking because you are uncomfortable when you’re not talking?
4 – Talk about nothing in particular because you feel you need to be the center of attention?
5 – Talk at someone, not with them?
6 – Interrupt others while they are talking?
7 – Check your phone, email, texts, while others talk?
8 – “Push” your product rather than offering it?
9 – Acknowledge what others say?
If any of these are true, then you probably aren’t listening. Wait, doesn’t the last item “acknowledge what others say” prove I”m listening? Isn’t acknowledging what you hear a good thing? Yes it is, but more than likely you are hearing, not listening. Acknowledging a point just means you’ve heard what was said, it may or may not mean you understand, empathize or can relate to what you acknowledge. That’s the problem.
Listening seems like it is a passive activity, but in reality listening requires focus, restraint, and openness. Most of us haven’t been taught how to actively listen. So how does one actively listen?
1 – Practice. Keep practicing.
2 – Focus on what is said, why it is said, and the context in which it is said.
3 – Focus on the emotions in which it is said to you (verbal, facial, gestural, etc.)
4 – Relate what is said to your own experience, not necessarily your goals.
5- Don’t just say “uh huh” or “yes, I understand.” Rephrase the problem or what was said and refer to your own experience. This builds on a relationship, empathy, and trust. It also helps you remember what was said.
6 – Complaints (about you, your company, or something else) are usually said for a reason. Understand the what and why. You can use the information to improve your situation. Finding problems to solve are the core of a startup. If someone is complaining, it’s a problem you may be able to solve and leverage the solution elsewhere. Restraint is needed here if the complaint is about your or your company. Don’t get argumentative—common sense.
7 – Wait for the other person to finish their point, not just their sentence. Offer possible solutions or advice again rephrasing the point they want addressed. Immediate, constructive involvement in the other person’s problem shows a willingness to help and people like helpful people. You’re building a relationship again.
8 – Take notes, but remember your focus is on what is being said, not on what you are writing down. Record it if you have a problem with taking notes and listening and are able to. If you do record, listen to the recording and compare the amount of time you spend talking vs. the other person. You should be in listening mode, not talking mode for most of the encounter, unless it’s just a conversation, then it should still be biased to the other person doing the talking.
9 – Eye contact is important as is your own body language. Be natural, but not “sloppy” in the way you interact non-verbally. Similartly, don’t “lock on” and never release your gaze. This is creepy.
Yes, your client and customer is solving your problem by giving you their business, but you are there to solve theirs, and possibly find other problems you can solve. You can’t learn about new opportunities if you’re spending time listening to yourself.