Miscommunication Conquered By Active Listening
Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Ears
Active listening is essential to any function people perform. Whether a mid-level ad executive or a grocery store bagger, active listening plays a role in everyone’s lives. Think about how disastrous the outcome would be if the concierge at a hotel booked a single bed room instead of a penthouse suite, or if an airline pilot didn’t get proper clearance before passing through international waters. Unfortunately miscommunications are commonplace in today’s society, however there is hope. Whether it is for business purposes or personal endeavors each person can improve their active listening skills to prevent communication mishaps.
Active listening is a combination of hearing what a person is trying to convey, interpreting the meaning of the message, reiterating the person’s message and feelings, as well as adding personal remarks or opinions. To actively listen, we need to be aware that someone else is taking the stage and we need to pay attention, our career or lives might depend on it. By taking the time to close our mouths and open our ears, we can understand people in a way that might not have been possible if we had stuck to our own agenda. By nature, people tailor situations to fit their motives, and sometimes this means factual information can be skewed to a certain viewpoint, this needs to be recognized and avoided at all costs.
People love to hear themselves talk and feel like they are being heard, so much so that at times they don’t realize their listener has long since tuned out. It is important to listen and pay attention to the whole message someone is sending. This is to ensure that no important points are missed and that the meaning is clear, even if the subject matter is disagreeable or the sender may not be perceived as intelligent to the listener. One of the most important steps to be an active listener is to acknowledge that the message was understood by paraphrasing it back to the speaker. This not only gives clarification but it also buys the listener time to organize their own thoughts and remarks.
Active listening is essential in the business world, particularly in the customer service and quality assurance departments. Among the companies with staying power, most aren’t in business that long because of bad customer service. Think about a place that had subpar customer service, now think about how often you recommend or return to that place. The factors of success in any business are many, but placing emphasis on the customer will ensure retention and loyalty.
Giving customers a voice is important, they need to be heard and action on the customer suggestions and complaints can lead to the implementation of new or improved products and services that may have not been designed otherwise. Watching market trends to determine fair prices and wages is also important to any good business. What if there was a comparable product to the one a company sells, but the price was one-third less? How many employees would stay at a company if they found out a competitor paid more for the same job duties? Bottom line is that businesses have to stay competitive and have to provide good customer service to stay afloat.
Convenience is a big part of customer retention, if it is too big of a hassle to order something or buy it, customers aren’t going to keep spending money. The one exemption to this is necessity items, but those are few and far between. Reward programs are a great way to give back to customers and they help enforce customer loyalty by requiring the customer to come back to redeem rewards offers. Promotions are great for bringing in new business and rewarding long time customers. This week a company has the best price on school supplies and school starts next week, where are the customers who waited going to shop?
Business managers and owners can tell you the importance of satisfied customers, but what they won’t tell you is how easy it is to listen. If customer service agents look at customers as if they are friends or acquaintances, communication becomes easier as both parties relax. There have been many times when a customer has called in irate about a product and a customer service agent has turned the call around into a positive experience by expressing empathy and making sure they understand the full scope of the issue. It is imperative to remember customers are people, and sometimes we are customers as well. How offended would you be if you called with a problem and the person who answered wasn’t taking the time to understand the issue or cut you off before you could finish? If the person had just taken to the time to use active listening skills the whole conflict could have been avoided or at least resolved.
Being professional but informal with customers is a good way to make them feel at ease and welcome. Customer service professionals who are trained to work in call centers are given the tools to build rapport with the customer, they are told to smile, be friendly and above all listen to the customer and paraphrase the problem to gain understanding. This level of understanding leads to a solution that is mutually acceptable to the company and the customer. The same way we listen to a friend or co-worker is the same way customers should be listened to. Give them credibility, and time to get their message across. Think of the money saved by figuring out a problem the first time instead of having multiple calls or letters about it.
Two things I gained form the Mindtools.com articles would be the steps to becoming a better listener and removing the barriers to effective communication. In the steps to becoming a better listener, the article explains ways to make the speaker feel like you are giving them your undivided attention and that you are actually involved in the conversation. If you give and get feedback you can constantly improve your communication skills and by addressing tough issues you make yourself appear more trustworthy and honest. Removing barriers to effective communication is probably one of the most overlooked components. We often have to speak with others in a hurry and not always in an ideal environment. By taking a few steps such as putting down our phones, or turning down the TV we can create an environment productive to active listening and begin to improve our interpersonal relationships. Even if the solution to the problem is apparent, keep listening there may be more under the surface that needs to be addressed.
By keeping these things in mind and playing an active role as a communicator, we can better understand others and handle situations that may arise. Clear communication and active listening are vital to avoid and resolving conflicts, and without these skills one would flounder in a modern business environment. Imagine a place where everyone actually listened to each other and respected opinions and how much improvement and growth we would see as a society. Consider what could be accomplished if we just took the time to stop talking and listen.