Professional development

Unlock better business relationships with active listening

- July 17, 2023 3 MIN READ
Two businesswomen in conversation

It’s been said that the greatest gift you can give anyone is your undivided attention. But in business life, with so much on our minds and multiple things pulling us in different directions all the time, giving undivided attention to anything might seem like too much to ask of ourselves. The good news is, there is a simple communication technique you can use to give your clients and customers the gift of undivided attention every day. That technique is called active listening, writes Kelly Exeter.

What is active listening?

Active listening involves being fully present in a conversation. You aren’t just hearing what a person is saying, you’re:

  • Picking up on non-verbal cues (like gestures or facial expressions that belie the words or tone used).
  • Paraphrasing and reflecting back what is being said (to show you understand what they’re trying to tell you).
  • Asking good questions when you don’t understand what they’re trying to tell you, or when you’re unsure of the outcome they’re seeking.
  • Being open-minded in your processing of what’s being said (thus keeping your manner and tone free of judgement).

Active listening takes practice. And sometimes it takes more energy than you might have at a given moment. But when you resolve to build this skill and devote the required energy to it, your business will benefit in these three ways:

1. Better conflict resolution

It’s common to find yourself in a situation where an angry or distraught person has done a big download on you. While people always feel better for having been ‘heard’, the amount of information you’ve just had to process likely makes it hard to know the outcome they’d like to see.

In situations like these, after expressing empathy for where the person is (e.g. “I understand how you’re feeling/why you are upset”), I’ve always found it useful and effective to say: “Can I ask, is there a specific outcome you’re seeking from this conversation?”

While that question looks a little aggressive in written form, it’s quite effective when said verbally with an empathetic and understanding tone. It conveys that you genuinely want to resolve the situation for the person. It allows for a much quicker resolution than guessing if they can tell you exactly what they need.

2. Better collaboration

When you’re running a business, even if you’re flying solo, you’re constantly collaborating with others – clients, external suppliers, contractors … the list goes on. When you’re managing a team, collaboration is also a big part of what you’re doing every day.

Active listening creates an environment where people feel safe expressing themselves and feel heard when they do. When people feel safe, they feel more comfortable sharing ideas that can be built on by others to deliver great outcomes for your business.

Active listening also builds trust, which is the foundation of all great relationships. And great relationships lead to great collaboration.

3. Better anticipation

When you practice active listening, you pick up on things you would miss if only giving conversations part of your attention. This can help you identify issues that might be simmering slowly and allow you to address those issues before they blow up into something big.

Sometimes, active listening allows you to pick up and manage something before it even becomes an issue. Anything that reduces the amount of drama in your business can only be a good thing!

As noted above, active listening is a skill. Just like all skills, it comes more naturally to some of us than others. For those who don’t have it naturally, it’s a skill that can be built.

Remember, you don’t have to go from zero to one hundred with this. Start practising active listening in just one area of your business or with just one person to start. As you build that muscle more over time, you will be able to deploy it more widely and derive more benefits.

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Now read this:

Five ways to be more intentional in your business

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  • Andrew Caska

    Caska IP Patent Attorneys

    'Flying Solo opened up so many doors for us - I honestly don't know where I'd be without it"