Listening may be the most powerful tool in your promotional tool kit. It applies to every business relationship you have, and your business will succeed or fail based on your relationships.
Listening is the key to unlocking the whole-hearted collaboration and cooperation of your clients, your suppliers, and your employees. When you listen fully and reflect what you have heard accurately and respectfully, you enroll others in your goals and aspirations. When you lecture, explain or prescribe without first listening, you alienate these same people.
There’s a simple way to identify opportunities for more powerful listening. Keep a simple tally, hash marks on a Post-It™, of every complaint you make today. Every single complaint signals an opportunity to listen powerfully because complaints identify the things you’d like to change, and listening is the first step in changing the things you can.
The authors of Co-Active Coaching identify three levels of listening. The levels are distinguished by where the listener focuses his or her attention. Each level is valuable, indeed indispensable, and you will want to become proficient in all of them.
Level I, Internal Listening, is listening for how things affect you. It is typical of information gathering: you call a theater to find out when you can get tickets to a show and on which nights you can get the best seats. You listen for answers to your questions and pay attention to how those answers affect you and your plans.
In Level II, Focused Listening, your attention is focused on the person you are listening to. This is the attention you might bring to your child when she complains of feeling ill. You ask questions and listen for what is going on with your child. You notice not only her words, but also her tone, and you pay attention to how your questions affect her as well as to what she says in response to them.
Level III, Global Listening, expands your field of awareness to 360 degrees. It is sometimes called Environmental Listening, because it takes in everything tangible and intangible that you can perceive. The person you listen to is the center of this field. It requires openness, full attention and a soft focus, and it includes listening to your intuition.
What do these levels have to do with building a practice? Let’s look at a common complaint (remember, complaints flag listening opportunities) about promoting a practice: how hard it is to convince prospects to value your services.
In a Level I conversation with a prospective client, you focus on getting the job (benefit to you). As soon as you sense that the other person is interested in something other than how fabulous your services are, you lose interest. Once you lose interest, your prospect loses interest, too. The relationship ends here.
A Level II conversation with the same prospect will focus on what he wants or needs. You will listen for how you can serve him, for how he will know if his needs are being met, and for what value will be created for him when he does get those needs met. As long as you maintain active interest in his agenda, the prospect is likely to remain engaged in the conversation. Even if you decide together that your services are not appropriate at this time, you have advanced your relationship (and his understanding of what you do). Your prospect will be in a position to speak positively of your work.
A Level III conversation with this prospect will be centered on the prospect (as in Level II) and will also take in other elements in their field. The conversation might explore what is going on in the spheres of home and work. You might intuit a reservation on the part of the prospect that you can raise and explore. You might discover that there are more applications for your work than the prospect initially imagined.
When you bring Level III listening to this encounter, you instantly integrate the impact that your questions and statement have on the prospect, allowing you to explore larger implications of your work together. You will pick up subtle clues about the prospect and the whole situation that will enable you to respond with greater appropriateness and power. You may get an intuitive “hit” about how you can be of service. If this prospect becomes a client, you have laid the groundwork for a powerful relationship. If together you determine that this is not the time, you have still made an ally, a person who is enrolled by your commitment to hearing and serving, a person who will be an ongoing source of good will and referrals.
Similar scenarios play out when you call on all three listening levels with employees, colleagues, and suppliers. The more of yourself you give to the listening process and the more of the other person you honor in your listening, the more viable your relationship. This is the source of that Holy Grail of marketing: word of mouth promotion. You listen and they talk—nicely—about you!
There’s another aspect of listening that is crucial for building a powerful, prosperous professional practice. That is, listening for, hearing and accepting praise. Really taking in the praise you receive builds confidence, and it helps you when it’s time to tell others what people value about what you do. Practice accepting compliments with a simple, sincere “Thank you,” and don’t hesitate to ask folks if you can quote them in your marketing materials.