Alright, so we’re finally back with the last and final post on listening! Before we jump right in though, I wanted to first share a guest post that I recently wrote for MyDoma Studio. I don’t want to spoil the fun and tell you exactly what it’s about, you’ll have to read it to find that out, but to give you just a bit of a teaser – I cover a quick and surprising way that we often disappoint our clients (and ourselves) when we utter a simple phrase. Find out what it is here!
Let’s Move On to the How To’s
So getting back to listening, we’ve already covered a lot of ground on why it’s so important, and 5 consequences of not doing it well. You risk losing client trust. You miss out on big and little details and the opportunity to surprise and delight clients. You make a generic, and less effective, sales pitch. You have clients who listen less. And you lessen your likability factor, especially at the beginning. That’s a lot of reasons, and no doubt there are more. But now it’s time to move on and focus on the how of listening well. So let’s get this thing started.
Hold Your Tongue
Now the first way to improve your listening skills is well not really rocket science. It’s simple, straight forward, and insultingly obvious. It’s such a “duh” that you may think we don’t need to spend any time talking about it, but I am. I’m going to talk about holding your tongue. And why you may ask? Why am I spending time talking about something that’s clearly just common sense? Well, because common sense and common practice are two very different things.
In any given conversation that we have, there’s a natural tendency to do a lot of things – guess what the other person is going to say and finish their sentence, cut off the other person while they’re talking as we just can’t wait to chime in, or even at times, take the conversation in a wildly different direction when we need to or want to talk about something else. But how do we curb such bad habits? How do we stop ourselves from jumping into a conversation when we really should be holding back? Well, by disciplining your tongue and your breath.
When you’re listening to someone else talk and you feel that urge to jump in, wait. Literally think and say to yourself, “wait.” Then let them keep talking. And then the next time you have that insatiable desire to finish a sentence or jump in before the client is finished, again, say to yourself, “wait.” Over and over and over again. Just, wait. It’s a simple fix, but a hard practice. Even if the client is saying something you WILDLY disagree with or even know is just flat out wrong, like the best place to hang a picture is just a few inches down from the ceiling, let them get it out. Hear them out.
And guess what you’re going to find out when you start doing this? You’ll find out just how many times you’ll have to tell yourself “wait.” You’ll bring awareness to the fact that maybe, you have more room for improvement than you thought. You’ll realize that truly being all in to focusing on what someone’s saying rather than focusing on when it’s your turn to talk, is not an easy task.
In fact you’ll find yourself to be like a dog training to wait for his food. Everything in you is trying to jolt forward to what you want but you just can’t get there as something is holding you back. It’s just that rather than being trained to wait for your kibbles and bits, you’re being trained to wait for your bit to talk. Try it and you’ll see what I mean.
And the fact of the matter is, you actually don’t know what a client is going to say. You don’t know where a client is going with something. And if we cut them off, they may no longer know where they’re going with something either. Maybe they were going to give you a referral, or ask if you’re able to take this project to a much deeper level, or who knows, if they can pay you more. But if you cut them off and they forget what they were going to say, well, then, there’s the possibility of missing out on so much.
Keep Them Talking
So once you’ve got that down, once you’ve told yourself “wait” enough times that you’re comfortable and aware that you were making this mistake but you’ve gotten it curbed pretty well, let’s throw another tool at you. In addition to telling yourself “wait,” encourage your client to keep talking when they seem to be done. Yep, that’s right, encourage them to keep going, and keep yourself from saying much of anything for awhile. How? By using follow up questions and statements like, “Oh wow, what else happened?” or, “Is there anything else you’d like to share?” Or, “tell me more!”
Here’s why. So often in our knowledge that well, people aren’t great listeners, we tend to wonder while we’re talking, do they even want to hear this? Do they care? Should I stop talking? However once we get permission to keep going, that’s a rare treat. We think, “Wow, this is some special person that they’re actually encouraging me to talk! They want to know more! This is awesome.”
And you know what else happens? They trust you more, they like you more, and they open up more. They start to really connect with you and share things that they wouldn’t normally, because you simply asked them to. They start to really have a special place in their heart for you, because you truly showed a genuine interest in hearing what they have to say. And for you? Well, you learn so much more about your clients. You learn about their past, their stories, what makes them who they are today. And it’s fascinating.
So encourage your clients to speak, to keep going, let yourself be fascinated by your clients and what they have to say. You’ll be shocked at what you can find out. And so often it’s by just asking one more question. Literally, just one more question.
When life was normal, pre-COVID, I used to ask cashiers during checkout “How are you doing today?” and 9/10 times they would say, “Oh, fine.” And if I had left it at that, the conversation would have ended there. I wouldn’t have learned anything else about that person, their day, or what they like to do. But when I followed it up with just one more question like, “How has the day been so far?” (even though the question was extremely similar to my initial question) then, well, all of a sudden the flood gates would open.
They knew they had permission to really talk rather than just give a canned answer as someone had shown interest. So they’d share all sorts of things – from planning vacations, to having a tough day because of a rude customer, to getting their kids ready for back to school, to being excited for their grown kids to return for the holidays. The difference between just asking that one additional question, was shocking. One question that turned a conversation from surface to subterranean. One question that turned a stranger into a friend, even if for only a few minutes.
And whether you’re talking to clients about projects or life, you’ll find the same. Maybe you’re talking to them about what their style is, what they like, what they don’t like, and what they’re unsure about. You’ll likely be shocked and surprised about what else you can learn, what else you can find out that will help you direct the project this way or that when you just encourage your client to keep on going.
Write While They Talk
Now with all of this client talking, there is a bit of an inherent problem though. And that problem is, you’re going to get a lot of information, most of which you’re likely to forget. Which brings me to my next point – write while they talk.
When you’re writing as clients talk, your mind doesn’t have the chance to wander. It has to focus so completely on your client as you’re trying to do two things at once, listen and write. There’s no room for thinking about something else like what you have to pick up on the way home. Nope, that’s just not a possibility.
So instead you have to just focus on what the client is saying. So tell your client, “While you talk, I’m going to take notes so I don’t forget anything.” (remember to say this first) and then as they speak, paraphrase what they say as much as you can. You can even create a template for whatever meeting you’re having and what you expect the client to say so you can fill in the blanks rather than scribbling down random words that you then later have to interpret.
Or you can create a short hand system for yourself so you know what different acronyms, symbols, or shapes mean rather than having to fully write everything out. Now don’t break the emotional connection that you have with your client by just writing, do periodically look up for eye contact, a head nod, and a smile, but after you do, go back to writing.
Practice Makes Progress
Ok, so, so far we have hold your tongue and think “wait” when you have the urge to jump in while a client is talking, encourage your client to continue talking with follow up questions when they seem to be done, and write down what your client is saying (when it makes sense, obviously) in order to keep your mind focused on the topic at hand. Now put it all together and what do you have? Well, you have a recipe for seriously improving your listening skills, and your client experience.
The fact of the matter is though, this isn’t going to happen over night. If you’ve been struggling with staying focused on listening for 40 or 50 years, then breaking that habit is going to be tough just like any other habit. Let’s be honest, we don’t break a late night cookie eating habit by just deciding we’re done with it. It takes constant and consistent work. Improving our listening skills is the same thing. It’s improved with constant and consistent work, and with practice, practice, practice.
And I encourage you to start the practice when the stakes are lower. Practice with someone who you already have a great connection with. Your spouse, your sibling, your best friend. Now, you might not be writing while they talk, but you can certainly do everything else, and see the difference. See how much better the conversation flows when you listen with the intention to, well, listen. See how much better you feel about the conversation when you’ve waited, asked follow up questions, and really encouraged them to share. Then, see how much better they feel. I’m going to guess that the difference is shocking. I know when I’m consistently focusing on having good listening skills in a conversation, the value of that conversation to me increases by about ten fold, without fail.
A Worthy Pursuit
Listening well is not a common trait, but it is a noble, worthy, and honorable one. To be known as a “good listener” is to me, one of the highest complements someone can get. As being a good listener means we’re able to put ourselves second. It means we’re able to show patience and discipline, and a fascination for other people. It means we’re able to give someone other than ourselves, our complete and total attention.
So go forth and give these gifts to your clients, and to yourself. Feel good about your conversations as you learn more about your clients. As you connect with them more, and as you better understand what makes them uniquely you. Let them fully and truly share what’s important to them, in life, and in design, because a great client experience can not exist without the presence of listening well. It just simply cannot. There’s no amount of gifts, or systems, or prompt replies, that will ever outweigh the power of simply, or really not so simply, listening.
So wait, encourage, and write. Wait, encourage, and write. Practice, practice, and practice some more, until the worthy and noble pursuit of great listening, becomes as natural to you, as your ability to design
Let me know in the comments below, what do you do to keep yourself focused when listening to clients? 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!