Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Learn to Listen. Listen to Learn.

"Talk less," said Mark McCormack, sports marketing pioneer, uber-agent and author of a number of business classics, including What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School. "You will automatically learn more, hear more, see more — and make fewer blunders."

It may seem self-evident, but it's worth repeating: the best way to understand people is to listen to what they have to tell you. So I was pleased — though not surprised — when an in-house survey recently revealed that the folks in our firm spend more time listening than talking. On average, they spend 82% of the time actually listening to other people and only 69% of the time talking.

I'm proud that our professionals and administrators spend less time speaking than listening. You can't learn if you don't listen … and in a continuously learning organization like Makovsky + Company, where depth of specialized knowledge is a core value, I expect our people to ask insightful, pointed questions — even if they think they already know the answers — and listen, actively and deeply, to the answers.

The best listener I ever met was chairman of a multi-billion dollar Fortune 200 company and an 18-year Makovsky client. He often called and went right for the jugular, asking the one question that was on his mind and even sparing the usual niceties. How are we going to get out of this situation? What did you do for me today? Tell me how you want to structure our presentation. Our business must become number one, so tell me how you are going to help us get there. And then he would just sit back and listen. He said very little, so little that it could almost be intimidating. At the end of the conversation, he would tell you whether he liked your thinking or not and whether to take it another step. This technique encouraged one to keep delivering more information rather than bear the silence on the other end of the phone.

This "active listening" is an incredibly complex skill. It involves not just accurately hearing what people say, but getting a sense of who they are; how they view their situation; their goals, expectations, hopes and fears; what they want from you … and lots more. Deep listening even involves hearing what people aren't directly saying … what they may be reluctant to say. (By the way, I contend that’s one of the great values of the blogosphere: that today you can legally eavesdrop on — that is, actively listen to — the conversations customers are having about your business, and they are well aware that such information is available).

It's human nature. We want people to listen to us … yet we rarely have the experience of being deeply heard by others. There are so many calls on our attention that, most of the time, we tune each other out in normal conversation. But when we actually listen to others, we can learn a lot. What's more, the people who are speaking perceive our attention as respect and validation.

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Blogger Terrence Seamon said...

Hi Ken.
Great post on listening. It's tremendously important to anyone who wants to learn about others, whether you are a parent, boss, writer, or consultant.

Monday, February 05, 2007 4:04:00 PM  
Blogger Ken Makovsky said...

Thanks. In my opinion, listening carefully is the hardest skill to become exceptional at. Good luck!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007 9:21:00 AM  

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