Practice Your Business Listening Skills for Effective Communication

Business listening skills are the most underrated tools in a business person's effective communication arsenal. Listening shows you care. It builds trust. It works on both clients and employees, creating and maintaining an open dialogue built on trust and understanding. How do we go about becoming adept with this tool? What do we need to consider while we train in this long-lost art?

Casual business team conversation

Rule #1: Trust begins with understanding which begins with asking good questions

Let's start with the first rule of listening. People trust those they feel understand them. To understand someone, you need to ask questions.  There are all types of qualifying questions and closing questions that really can stay the same. Part of making them work is framing them specifically for your current client. I'd also recommend starting with a question to draw them out. Asking, "Why are you willing to spend time with me today?" They may answer, "You called, and I have the time." What a great way to start. They have permitted you to have a conversation. Now to keep control of your discussion, you need to ask another question. I'd lead with something to get an idea of how things are going for the client. Listen carefully to their responses and lead the conversation with additional questions.

Rule #2: Improve your business listening skills

The second rule of listening is to judge your ability to give an excellent presentation by how well you listen! How do you find this out? Ask the people you listen to regularly. Tell them you want the truth, and you are trying to improve. Listen to their answers and ask for their help. Keep their advice in mind as you work on a series of questions that will give you answers about your clients. Remember, people like to talk about themselves. When discussing how to make their business better with your product, ask things like, "How have we/product x helped you specifically? What do you see as the most important reason to continue using our product? Are you happy with the service you've received?" I'm confident you will come up with many more ways to ask questions that make your client feel special. They are the reason you are in business.

Rule #3: Make your tone confident, conversational and assertive — but not pushy!

The third rule of listening is to be confident. Reassure your client or prospect with your words, attitude, and actions. The phone limits the clients' ability to "see" your actions, so you might frame a question that reminds them about what you've done and can do for them. Your tone of voice must accompany your words. You are working on sounding like a professional, confident, person with their answers. Don't forget to smile! Make your tone conversational and assertive but not abrasive.

Rule #4: Pause and respond after listening to what your client says

Rule four is the most important. Listen to what your client is saying when you ask them a question. Hear their answer. The time to think about what you want to ask next is after you have heard what they are saying. How can you know what to ask if you're not listening? The biggest mistake with a client is thinking about what to say next while they are talking. Use the time they are speaking for listening. Pause before you speak and gather your thoughts. You look more professional and assure them of your attention. Take notes so you can ask follow-up questions.

Additional resources:

Robynne Davis

Robynne Davis is Executive Director at Xylina SPC, a woman owned, Washington Social Purpose Corporation with an emphasis on social justice and environmental responsibility. She also is the board Secretary for the Oregon Small Business Fair.

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