Listen up: How active listening can improve your business

Today’s blog is going back to basic, crucial skills. No, not how to post an image on Facebook. Today is about the most important, fundamental skill anyone providing a service, creating a product or running a business can have: the ability to listen well.


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What is active, empathetic listening?

Have you ever met someone who makes you feel like you’re the only person of concern in the world and that what you are saying is truly heard? You want to share more with him or her because s/he gets you. You are on the receiving end of active, empathetic listening and it is so important for any business.

An article called “Active Empathetic Listening and Selling Success: A Conceptual Framework” breaks it down for us. It asserts that listening has three stages: sensing, processing and responding. “Sensing refers to the actual receipt of messages, processing refers to activities that take place in the mind of the listener, while responding involves acknowledging receipt of messages”.

Empathy can be defined as “the ability to discern another person’s thoughts and feelings with some degree of accuracy and involves listening on an intuitive as well as a literal level”. In the context of listening, empathy operates as the ability “to perceive the internal frame of reference of another with accuracy, and with the emotional components and meanings…as if one were the other person, but without ever losing the ‘as if condition”.

Why is active, empathetic listening important?

Any business interaction starts as human engagement and the way you communicate lays the foundation for your professional relationship. The article argues that “[e]mpathetic listening is a critical part of the communication process and provides a supportive environment for the flow of messages between senders and receivers”.

It’s not just cold callers or people behind product counters that are salespeople. Whether you’re a freelance journalist or make craft beer in your garage, we all sell our product or service and we can all sharpen our sales skills. Active empathetic listening is a key skill in terms of your ability to sell. Here’s how empathy affects your ability to listen as a salesperson:

“When ‘sensing’, salespeople with strong empathy are more likely than those less endowed with empathy to be aware of more subtle cues from customers. When ‘processing’, salespeople with strong empathy are more likely than are less empathetic salespeople to understand the significance of messages, more likely to interpret and evaluate them correctly and, consequently, more likely to commit correct information to memory. When ‘responding’, empathetic salespeople are more likely to send back messages that assure their customers that they are on the same wave-length”.

For us at Pomegranite, translating a client’s real-world identity and resources into an online presence requires trust: we are the translators and representatives of a brand.  We need as much information as possible. Small businesses are generally small teams and often work very intuitively. This means that, often, a lot is assumed between the team rather than explicitly articulated. This type of listening allows you to tune into that relationship and bring up ideas for discussion.

How do I use it in my life?

Don’t be spooked by the big words. They were just to impress you. Active, empathetic listening is not difficult; in fact you probably do it all the time. But being aware of it will only make this sense more acute.

Let Shelley Sacks take you on this journey and try it out sometime:

[T]o really hear what another has to say we have to remove the agreement and disagreement. We have to try and stay with the person, with their pictures, with their thoughts, and see what they see and feel, without agreeing and disagreeing and letting our own thoughts run on internally. A good way to do this and focus more sharply on what someone is saying – to become a more active listener – is to consider what is being said in three ways. We can listen for the content of what is being said, we can listen to the feeling with which it is being said, and we can try and get a sense of the impulse or motivation in what is being said (from her handbook for her social sculpture Exchange Values).

When it comes down to it, the smoother and more satisfying your interactions are, the more repeat business you can ensure, the fewer dissatisfied customers you will have,  the deeper your relationships and the greater your feedback and opportunities.