ITL #400 - Listening: a much-underrated business tool

1 month, 2 weeks ago

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Listening allows you to stop guessing and build campaigns based on facts, not assumptions. It’s also a sign of respect. By Emma Kane.



As the great American broadcaster Larry King once said, “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So, if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” 

 

This mantra is the most powerful tool we have as communications specialists to achieve the optimum results from our work. After all, our mission is to deliver messages and campaigns that resonate with the stakeholders we want to influence – if we don’t understand their current views or the context in which we are delivering them, how can we possibly know if they will be effective or not?

 

Listening comes in different forms.

 

Actual listening, where you are able to pick-up nuances through the intonation of the speaker’s voice providing emotional intelligence which leads to insights; listening to non-verbal language, the person’s body language which is giving you all kinds of clues about whether the person is receptive to the conversation, being evasive or lying, nervous or passionately excited and engaged; and social listening, where you can understand why, when and how conversations happen and what the people having those conversations think. By analysing these trends and conversations you can then use those insights to make better decisions. 

 

Listening allows you to stop guessing, instead building campaigns based on facts, not assumptions. It also allows you to be strategic not just tactical. 

 

Missing insights

People are becoming ever more focused and proficient at pushing messages out. But how much time is spent listening? In an increasingly digital world, the risk is heightened and the lack of proper, meaningful conversations is leading to a rapid decline in people’s active listening skills. We believe we are having ‘conversations’ over email but we are missing out on a wealth of insights and colour that could transform outcomes.

 

Without doubt, the best way to win a new mandate or expand your existing one is to listen – listen to their story, understand where their pain or pride really lies.

 

This doesn’t mean saying nothing and just nodding. Good listening is about asking powerful open questions to allow the person to expand on the challenges they really have and showing the person speaking that you are listening and are engaged with the conversation. What it gives you in return is the opportunity to discover what is truly behind their brief. 

 

Sign of respect

Listening is also the ultimate sign of respect and is the best way to build trust. If you do not appear engaged, the speaker is unlikely to trust you by sharing their innermost thoughts. 

 

Trust comes when you are not competing with the speaker – listen before you speak; if you are hoping to get your point across or move the conversation on, you as the ‘listener’ have not been listening, just preparing your next point. So, whilst many people in the communications industry have a natural propensity to be problem solvers this must not come at the expense of listening prior to feeding back suggestions.

 

You also need to listen with your eyes. There are so many non-verbal clues. It is estimated that 80% of what we communicate comes from non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, gestures, posture, body language. Whether your engagement is over Zoom or face-to-face, eye contact is a key part of active listening. Look people in the eye when you are listening and share your enthusiasm – physical energy can affect the outcome.

 

Tone and context can be misread in text which can lead to so many problems – emails, in their brevity, desensitise us to the emotions of others. 

 

Rise of the emoji

When we communicate primarily over email or social media, so much is lost and not ever translated – vocal intonation, subtle nuances, facial expressions and body language. It is no wonder that the emoji was created back in 1999.

 

Over a decade on, 722 emoji were released on both iPhone and Android and today the ‘face with tears of joy’ emoji is by far the most popular on Twitter according to Emojitracker, appearing in over 3 billion tweets since they started monitoring them in 2013. There would be no doubt if the reader was a listener.

 

Listening does have a great place on social media – social listening. Social listening will inform your messaging and content strategy, it will help you get an edge over your competition, it helps refine future campaigns, who you should partner with and it enables you to understand who the key influencers are. This is because social listening helps you deal with facts as it ensures you have listened to the wider context in which comments are made, and it helps you measure the impact and value of your campaigns.

 

So where are all the business books on listening? In business, your ability to progress is often linked to how good a speaker you are – perhaps this is the reason why on Amazon there are 698 books for “Listening Skills” under Business, Finance & Law books compared with over 3,000 books for “Speaking Skills” in the same department. I would definitely challenge that lazy consensus.

 

One business example around the importance of listening is when negotiating.  The most effective approach is always to listen to what the other person is saying rather than doing all the speaking yourself – by listening you will gain so many clues which you can then use to your advantage. 

 

The fact is that the harder the conversation you need to have, the more you need to do it face-to-face so that the recipient is able to listen to you. Face-to-face contact is authentic, it is more effective, more efficient (because there are far fewer misinterpretations) and it builds relationships. Research from UCLA stated that 7% of a message is derived from the words, 38% from intonation and 55% from facial express or body language.

 

So, I’m firmly in Team Ernest Hemingway, who said, “I like to listen. I’ve learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”

 


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The Author

Emma Kane

Emma Kane is Chief Executive of Newgate Communications and Deputy CEO of the Group, SEC Newgate S.p.A.

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