I’ve yet to come across a product or service I didn’t find fascinating.

Sure, the gems aren’t always on the surface. You’ve got to dig to discover them.

The work that follows is honing and polishing until they truly shine.

But that starts with listening. Really listening.

We all know and value the gift of speaking effectively and persuasively. But if those skills are considered valuable, then listening actively is surely priceless.

For most of us it’s a skill that does not come naturally. It’s hard to acquire and needs constant practice.

Why’s that such a challenge?

Because our brains work far faster than people can talk, it’s easy to lose focus when we really should be listening. It’s called the speech-thought differential and it causes us to mentally meander when we should be focusing on what’s being said.

We start to wonder what’s for dinner … whether it’s time to change our car. We notice the speaker’s nasal hair or unusual dress sense. We begin preparing a witty comment.

Worst of all, we assume we know what the speaker is going to say next.

In short, we aren’t actually listening, we’re simply waiting to talk.

It’s only when we listen, really listen that we discover the key to unlocking the marketing puzzle.

When we do, something magical happens; that a-ha moment when the twisting of the cube slots everything into place.

On some occasions the results are small but elegant. On others the outcomes can be seismic.

That a-ha moment

For one trade association with limited scope for growth we devised an entirely new category of membership that opened up huge potential for growth, at little cost and re-purposing using existing resources.

For another we turned their entire marketing strategy on its head, taking them from a small, regional supplier to an international market leader.

The clients were gracious in crediting us for their success. In truth, we may have presented them with the answer… but we didn’t conjure it from thin air. It was the client who, without being aware of it himself, told us everything we needed to know. Our role was to listen carefully and process wisely.

Getting on the same wavelength – it’s an actual thing!

In order to generate the best marketing answers, we need all the information we can get. We need to get on the same wavelength as our clients. And it turns out that’s an actual thing!

When you listen and really grasp what another person is saying, your brainwaves and those of the speaker are literally in sync. By looking at brain scans, neuroscientists have found that the greater overlap and similarity of neural impulses between speaker and listener, the greater the understanding. It’s observable, measurable proof of listening, comprehension, and connection.

You know it’s happening when you have that “Oh I get it” moment or sense of clarity when someone else is talking. You’re on the same wavelength, even if you don’t necessarily agree.

We’ll all experienced those occasions when we set aside ego, inattention and other distractions and fully appreciate what we are being told. On those rare occasions it feels uncanny.

But let’s be clear, listening isn’t a passive exercise. The effectiveness of a conversation depends a great deal on how we interact, how careful and effective we are in seeking a clear understanding of another speakers thoughts… and, as a result, crystallising our own.

Researchers have found that those listening attentively were rewarded with more information, greater clarity and finer detail… even when the listener didn’t ask any questions.

Conversely, experiments have established that if we are poor and inattentive as listeners, then the information delivered by the speaker is compromised in both quantity and quality. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: If you’re scarcely paying attention because you think what the speaker is saying isn’t worth your time, you could actually make it so.

And there’s more…

It turns out that listening to other people makes it more likely other people will listen to you. This is partly because it’s human nature to return courtesies, but also because good listening improves your chances of delivering a message that resonates.

Insights often come not from incisive questioning or energetic repartee, but from keeping your mouth shut and allowing people the time and space to say what they need to say.

Listening is a skill and, like any skill, it needs practice. It takes awareness, motivation and restraint. The more people you listen to, the greater will be your understanding of humanity and the better your judgements, instincts and intuitions.

For colleagues, but mostly for myself, I offer the following observations and reminders:

  • Good listeners ask good questions. Every product, service or person is interesting – if you ask the right questions.
  • Listening poorly selectively, or not at all, is to limit your understanding of whoever and whatever is in front of you.
  • Good questions don’t come with a hidden agenda of fixing, saving, advising, convincing or correcting.
  • Be inquisitive. Stay in the moment.
  • Have faith in the listening process. Clients almost know the answer to their own problems… they just may not realise it yet.
  • Remember, clients know more about their businesses that you’ll ever know. Your job is to help unearth the information and then promote it using all your skill, judgement and ingenuity.
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