As last week we talked about, well, talking, this week I thought we should cover something just as important but even more difficult to carry out, listening. Listening is one of those things that sound extremely easy in theory, but is actually EXTREMELY difficult to do well. Like crazy difficult.
How many times do we hear someone’s name as they introduce themselves and within seconds we’ve forgotten it? How many times have you been having a conversation with your spouse and they say, “are you even listening to me?” and you know that well, you really weren’t. And how many times have you listened to someone’s story and halfway through your mind drifted elsewhere? Well, if you’re anything like me, it’s unfortunately more often than you’d like to admit.
The truth is, our minds are busy places. We’re thinking of this that and the other thing, instead of listening to someone as they’re talking. We’re not doing it on purpose. We’re not doing it to be hurtful. We’re not even usually doing it because we don’t care about what they’re saying. Sometimes it’s just, well, a bad habit. It’s a habit though that needs to be curbed as quickly as possible, especially if you’re trying to deliver an exceptional client experience.
Here’s the thing, in every single project that you have as a designer, you’re talking with your clients for an enormous amount of time, and about an enormous amount of subjects. It’s actually extraordinary how much you’re actually in conversation with your clients about such a vast array of topics – from personal finances, to project challenges, to work of tradespeople, to casual conversation, to personal, intimate details of their life. There are few professionals that will ever spend as much time with their clients as you do, and cover as many topics.
And since there’s so much time spent talking, that also means there’s so much room for error. There’s so many opportunities to cut clients off, finish their sentences for them, or just not be in tune with what they’re saying. And as harsh as it may sound, what you really want to be with clients most of the time, is listening, which is really just another way of saying, being quiet. Let’s talk about why.
1. People Trust a Good Listener
When we’re developing a relationship with someone we obviously do so through conversation. And how we feel about that relationship is related to how well we talk with that person. And although we often think of “good conversation” as just a conversation that flows naturally (which is true), what we also think of as a “good conversation” is, talking with someone who listens well. Someone who lets you fully talk until you’re finished. Someone who listens to hear you, rather than someone who listens for the stop in your sentences so they can start talking.
But when we have a conversation with someone who doesn’t really listen or only half listens with their attention clearly coming in and out, we don’t trust them. We start to question their motives. We start to think, “What’s happening? Do they just think I’m not worth their time? My money seems to be worth their time, but I guess what I have to say isn’t?” Then inadvertently, it starts to chip away at the trust that we have in them. The trust that they’re listening. The trust that they care. The trust that, well, they’re trustworthy.
When we think of, let’s say, a sleazy sales person, we think of someone who does what? All of the talking. We think of someone who just talks, and talks, and talks. They don’t let you get a word in edge wise. Then, when you finally do. They don’t listen. They just use your words as a jumping off point to get back to their own agenda. They’re not interested in what you have to say. They’re interested in what they have to say. They’re just that self serving.
And while you’re of course not a sleazy salesman by any means, that’s just an extreme example for the sake of making a point, the more we talk and the less we listen, the clients thoughts start to go somewhat in that direction. The less they trust us to keep their best interest in mind as well, how could we even know what their best interest is, as we’re not even listening to what their interests are. The person who listens, is the person we trust. The person who listens, is the person we respect. As they first showed that respect to us.
Then their mind starts to question us in another direction, which leads us to our next point.
2. You’re Missing Out on the Big (and Little) Things
When we struggle to listen fully and completely to clients, we obviously are also missing out on information. Some of which is necessary, crucial information and some of it not. Unfortunately, the client is going to worry though that the information that you might be missing out on, is the crucial information. And while they’re talking they’re simultaneously thinking, “Is she even listening to me? Is she getting what I’m saying? This is crucial to how I want this space to look.”
We also can’t just assume that because the overall conversation has nothing to do with the project, that all of what they’re saying will remain that way. It may be a story that actually leads into the project (even though it might be a long and winding story that seems to have no real point), they just didn’t introduce it with “So about the bookcases that we had talked about…” However they do eventually get there and after a few minutes of talking about their sister say “so then we talked about the bookcases that you and I had discussed and I decided that yes, let’s go ahead with them.”
Uh whoa. Did you just tell a super long story about your sister that then led to a short sentence saying that you do want the bookcases to be built out? Something that will influence the entire design and cost thousands and thousands of dollars? Yep, sure did. I hope you didn’t miss out on it.Why did you share it in that way rather than telling me directly? Well, because that’s how I talk. That’s how a lot of people talk, in stories. We lead you down a winding road to tell you how we arrived at the destination, which was our decision. So you better be listening, like really listening.
And the client is right. Despite the fact that they absolutely should have told you directly and at the beginning of the conversation what their decision was, they didn’t. So unfortunately you’re still left to sift through all of the information that they’re sharing with you, to see what the meat is, what the point is, of their story. Now granted at times they might not really have a point. They might just be wanting to talk to you, but that’s really not a risk you want to take. You don’t want to be in the position where you’re not really listening, possibly missing out on project crucial information, and then all of a sudden chime in with a, “Uhh what was that?” giving away that you weren’t exactly giving them your full attention.
Plus, as we’ve talked about here before, the conversations where clients seem to go and on and on… can also provide you with crucial information of a different kind. Often conversations like these provide you with the perfect opportunity to listen for ways to surprise and delight clients.
In those long, winded stories that clients often share, they’re usually talking about their interests. They’re sharing what they enjoy, what their hobbies are, what they like to do as a family, and that’s prime time gifting information. That’s the kind of information that come December 1st, you wish you had. That’s the kind of information that you’re later going to be cursing yourself for, thinking, “Darn it, I wish I had listened more when they were talking about what they liked, and written it down. (Hint, hint, ALWAYS, write this kind of info down asap when you hear it) What did they say they love spending their weekends doing? Sailing, or was it sewing? Dang it I wish I knew. Oh well, I guess I’ll just buy them a candle and call it a day.”
Listening Is Often Boring
The fact of the matter is, listening isn’t always fun. Sometimes it can be downright boring. Let’s be honest. The other person is talking about why many botanicals often have a proper Latin name and how those names are derived. Then they move into the history of naming items. Then they start talking about stuff you vaguely know about, but think that maybe the last time you heard it was in your 8th grade biology class. Yikes. This isn’t the kind of information that you find tantalizing exactly. In fact, you find that kind of information quite sleep inducing, as do most people.
However, to that client, that information is fascinating. To that client, it’s what they love. To that client, that’s the information they want to share with you. To that client, they’re building their relationship with you as they let you in on their interests.
And if you listen, and listen well, you can make that client feel important. You can build their trust in you. You even have the opportunity to realize that, hey, maybe we should include botanicals in this project, or hey, maybe we could give them tickets to the event coming up at the Botanical Gardens as a wonderful surprise.
Listening Well is a Serious Talent
Listening well is a talent. A real talent. It’s a talent because to do it well takes an enormous amount of discipline. It takes an enormous amount of discipline to block out all of the other things going on in your mind, in your world, in your day, and just focus on the person in front of you. Just focus on that person, and what they’re saying, despite whether or not you find it interesting.
It’s also not a one time thing. It’s a continual act as the story or diatribe goes on, you’re continually tempted to let your mind wander to something that you find more interesting. It’s like sitting on your couch at night knowing that there’s a whole box of Girl Scout cookies in the other room. You don’t just think once, “hmm, I could go and get those….” and then think “Nahh, I don’t need that” and then you’re done with it. Nope, it’s a continual temptation as the minutes and hours go on. It just keeps coming up in your mind over and over and over, cookies, cookies, cookies. And so is the temptation to think of something else rather than listen to them, other projects, other projects, other projects. Or maybe, grocery list, grocery list, grocery list.
Your mind becomes a siren that’s calling you elsewhere. But just as the real sirens were from Greek mythology, they’re an evil distractor luring you into a treacherous, rocky end. Their purpose is to move your mind from where it needs to be, the client, into dangerous territory where you’re disconnecting from your client and possibly missing out on crucial information.
So how do we actually become disciplined ourselves? How do we discipline ourselves to be better listeners and why else is listening so crucial? Well, we’ll be back next week with all of that and more. But for now remember this, resist the temptation to let your mind wander. Resist the siren that is calling you to think about something else, anything else, other than what your client is saying to you. Give your client the time, the attention, and the connection, that they’re so desperately wanting from you, no matter how boring the information may be. Do whatever you can to keep your mind from reaching its painful end on the rocks of distraction. Allow it instead to stay focused, safe, and firm on exactly what they’re telling you.
Let me know in the comments below, do you struggle with listening to your clients? If so, how do you combat it? I would love to know!
And if you’re ready to learn even more about how to effectively communicate with your clients throughout the entire project, you can learn how to do just that here!