‘Listening is the ultimate core competence’ says Tom Peters. The topic must be back in fashion. I’ve read two articles in the last month on listening; as well as the three chapters from Peters in ‘The Little Big Things.’
The material came to mind a few months ago or so ago. A member of staff at a client site joked that ‘the problem with you people is that you only tell us what we already know.’ If only that was the case.
I suspect most consultants, or professional people, don’t have these skills. It’s quite an art to draw out what the client already knows; to let them think things through and offer an environment for them to do this.
I suppose the difficultly stems from being an expert. After all, you’re being paid to tell it as you see it. A colleague once told me the solution in the car on the way to a new client meeting – isn’t that the expertise the client is paying for?Years ago I read a book by Nancy Kline on listening (‘Time to Think’) and not making assumptions. It is a great book. For months I sat in meetings observing people and wondering why people bothered attending if they’d already made their mind up.
In her second book, ‘More Time to Think,’ Kline says that in any client meeting there are two experts. There is the professional person, who may have knowledge that is ‘financial, technical, legal….’ Then there is the client, who knows their company and the issues. Kline writes that clients ‘want to be asked. They want to be listened to impeccably. They want to think for themselves.’
How easier it would be for consultants to play back what the customer already knows if they create the environment for the client to do this, then listen very carefully and seek to fully understand. It’s not natural though for an expert to do this.
The bottom line is this. Professionals who realise that there are two experts in the room and lead clients to develop their own solutions will be called back again. The reason is that the outcome or plan will have so much more value and commitment. Kline asks that we read the following check list 5-minutes before a client meeting. It’s valuable advice. Remember
- Being a Thinking Environment for your client is valuable expertise
- Your client wants your advice – but more than that they want to think for themselves
- They want to be listened to without interruption
- The value you offer your client increases with every minute you listen to them
- Your clients thinking will improve yours
- Your relationship with your client is a partnership, not a performance
- You are both the expert
- Get interested in what your client thinks and will say next
- Don’t interrupt or rush them to speak
- Keep your eyes on their eyes
- Ask them what more they think, or feel, or want to say
- Regard them as your equal.
Photo credit – Are You Listening? (film) from Wikipedia