Communication is a two-way street. But most of what’s written about effective business communication focuses on just one side: speaking. The other side—listening—is often overlooked but at least as important.
Writing for Entrepreneur.com, Anna Johansson describes several ways that active listening is important for helping a small business survive and thrive. For example, listening to your employees can clue you in to small problems before they become big issues. What’s more, the team members who alert you to potential problems may also have useful suggestions to help solve them, as well as new ideas that can lead to improvements or growth. An added bonus is that taking the time to listen to your employees also builds trust and loyalty to your company. The same goes for clients and partners: actively listening rather than coming in with a preplanned sales pitch makes them feel valued and understood.
Derek Miller, a recent contributor to the SCORE blog, cautions that effective listening is not easy, especially in situations where there is a power imbalance, such as a superior and a subordinate. Therefore, it’s especially important for entrepreneurs and small business owners to cultivate these skills.
In a 2016 article in the Harvard Business Review, leadership development experts Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman describe how data from more than 3,000 participants in a program to develop managers’ coaching skills revealed four main characteristics of good listening:
- Good listeners ask questions that promote dialogue and insight.
- Good listening includes interactions that builds the other person’s self-esteem.
- Good listening is a cooperative conversation with feedback flowing in both directions.
- Good listeners make suggestions and provide feedback in a way that others will accept and consider.
So how do you improve your listening skills and become a more effective active listener? Inc.com contributor Matthew Jones, a licensed therapist and coach, suggests some things to pay attention to:
- Content: Focus on the specific words and phrases the speaker uses.
- Context: What overarching circumstances and unique personal situations influence what’s being said?
- Tone: What feelings are implied by the speaker’s tone of voice?
- Emotion: What emotions are being conveyed by the speaker, and how can you amplify them in order to make him/her feel understood?
- Body language: Be aware of nonverbal as well as verbal communication.
In addition, active listeners do the following:
- Ask questions: Open-ended questions encourage elaboration, while closed-ended questions slow down the pace of the conversation and allow the listener to clarify important details.
- Offer affirmation: Validate the speaker’s choices as important and valuable.
To learn more about effective listening and why it’s so important to the success of a business owner, join us on Monday, Sept. 30 for Building Relationships through Effective Listening. John Panarese of SCORE Fox Valley will address key skills in relationship building, including why people don’t listen, how to break the bad habits of responding before the other person has stopped speaking, and how we always learn more from listening than speaking.
This session is part of NaperLaunch’s 6th annual Entrepreneurs Week, a series of workshops focused on educating and guiding startup and experienced entrepreneurs. For more information, visit www.naperlaunch.org/entrepreneurs-week.
Johansson, Anna. “5 Ways Listening Grows Your Business.” Entrepreneur.com. 28 Oct. 2015.
Jones, Matthew. “10 Ways to Immediately Improve Your Listening (and Networking) Skills.” Inc.com. 10 Jan. 2018.
Miller, Derek. “5 Ways to Improve Communication Within Your Small Business.” SCORE.org. 16 May 2019.
Zenger, Jack, and Joseph Folkman. “What Great Listeners Actually Do.” Harvard Business Review. 14 July 2016.