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Oct 05

The Effective Listener-A Key to Business Success

Posted by: Steve Marr

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Clay ignored concerns voiced by his staff that customers were complaining about increasingly delayed shipments. He continued to brush off their comments until he lost his biggest customer. When he called the customer in an attempt to recover the lost business, the customer said, "I repeatedly told your staff that delivery times were becoming unacceptable-yet nothing changed. I was even told that you, the owner, had been told, but still nothing changed. We have decided to take our business elsewhere."


Marie, who processed health insurance claims for a doctor's office, was experiencing ongoing problems with the computer system. She explained to the doctor that the old software was not operating well with the new hardware he had recently purchased, and that the system could crash. She also advised him to back up his data every day, but he ignored her comments. A few weeks later, the system crashed, data was lost, and the practice lost $4,500 on billings that could not be reconstructed.

The writer of the book of Hebrews, exasperated with his readers, wrote, "It is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing" (Hebrews 5:11, NASB). Keeping an ear sharply tuned to legitimate staff concerns is a key element of successful business management. In each of the previous cases, the manager was given fair warning of impending problems. If the advice had been heeded, corrective action could have been taken to avoid problems.

Effective listening starts with inviting listening opportunities. Make a point of asking your employees key questions that will draw out issues you may need to address. Superficial questions, such as "How's it going?" will generally generate only a perfunctory response. Ask questions that will draw out information, such as


  • What feedback have you been receiving from customers lately?
  • What do customers especially like about our product or service?
  • Have you noticed any customer complaints about anything we do?

Be quick with follow-up questions designed to draw out more information.

When discussing on-the-job issues ask the following kinds of questions: Is there anything that makes doing your job difficult? How much time do you need to spend correcting mistakes or errors? What kind of mistakes? Have you noticed any equipment in need of repair? 

Sincerely asking for staff feedback creates several benefits. First, morale will improve. (We all like to be consulted and have our opinions valued- it's a sign of respect.) Second, you will also gain valuable information that you can use to improve your business. Third, asking questions will help you stay closer to your business and better able to stay on top of information.

Soliciting feedback is only the first step. If you don't also establish effective listening habits, you will cut off the communication that you need. When conversing with an employee, stop what you're doing, establish eye contact, and listen. Focus not only on what is being said, but also on how it is being said. A study revealed that the average person spends 65 percent of their listening time thinking about how to respond, rather than actually listening. Focus on listening first. Then, if necessary, take a moment to formulate your reply. King Solomon advised, "He who answers before listening-that is his folly and his shame" (Proverbs 18:13, NIV).

Job said, "If one ventures a word with you, will you become impatient?" (Job 4:2, NASB). Be diligent to avoid seeming impatient. The paper shuffler who reads documents while conversing, or the e-mail surfer who clicks the keyboard, both send the clear message that they are uninterested in the discussion. Others may look around-at everything but the speaker, whereas others respond with "Yeah, yeah, yeah," without truly engaging.

Effective listeners focus on the speaker, lay aside all distractions, and repeat back what was said to ensure that the message was understood. If you are busy, establish a later time to talk when you can give the person your full attention.

Our pride, ego, and arrogance can keep us from being open communicators, whereas humility will help to open the door of communication. The feedback you hear from your staff may be the difference between success and failure on the job.

Steve Marr, Your Christian Business Coach

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