Tuesday, January 8, 2013

If You Listen, They Will Stay

Every year, every day, people spend a large amount of time and money trying to figure out how to attract others – attracting customers, new employees, a mate or companion, attracting others in general.  With all this money and time being spent, then, you'd think once they got the customer, employee, mate, etc., they'd do everything they could to keep them; unfortunately, though, money can't solve that problem.  Some would say there is no solution to the problem, except to throw more money into attracting new, instead of retaining old.

There is a solution, and it's cheap ... the cost?  Time and attention, listening and acknowledgement.  That's it.

The root of every consumer complaint, employee resignation, marital dispute or other breakdown in relationships starts with lack of communication and acknowledgement.  How many times have we heard, "My spouse doesn't listen to me," "I tried talking to my boss and he/she blew me off," or "I called the company and they never returned my call."  How many times have we heard, "My parents ignore me."

Just in the past week, I've had conversations with at least 8 people whose stories all ended with not being heard or acknowledged.  Deb would have stayed with her cable company if they had just returned her call to let her know how long her cable would be out, but they never did; she switched to satellite.  Karen and Donna would have stayed in their jobs had their bosses just taken the time to listen to what they were saying instead of blowing them off or blaming them for things out of their control.  Ellen would have stayed with her husband had he been there mentally, not just physically; he was so into his sports that he didn't even know she had been out every night for 2 weeks and was surprised when she left him – he didn't think anything was wrong.

So what are the keys to effective listening?  This seems to simple, but in this age of extreme me-first-ism, it takes effort.

*  Realize that each person you meet has the right to be treated with dignity.  Employees, clients, mates, children are not a lower form of life.  They eat, sleep and breathe the same as you.  They are as dedicated to their lives as you.  And they're looking to you for something, just as you look to others for things.  Their time is as valuable as yours.  So drop the attitude.

*  Second, prepare yourself to listen.  Stop what you're doing.  Look them in the face if they're in front of you.  And most of all, don't think about your response while they're talking; you may miss an important point.

*  Listen objectively.  Don't assume this is a personal attack.  Don't get defensive.  Look for the bottom line.  Why are they upset?  Isolate the points that you can do something about.

*  When the other person is done speaking, repeat what you believe the problem to be and take a moment to think before responding.

*  Once they're done, thank them for bringing the problem to your attention.  If you feel you need more time, tell them so.  If you can solve the problem, do it.  If you can't offer a solution, but can understand their situation, tell them.  If you make a promise, keep it.

That's it.  Now, take all that money you spend on "experts" and send something nice to the last person you didn't listen to. 

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