By Dana Dupuis
You're no stranger to the concept of communication. After all, communication — whether over the phone or face-to-face — is a huge part of your work life. However, when many people think about communication, they're biased towards the role of speaking. But the other half of communication, listening, is equally important. By improving your ability to listen, you will improve your communication overall. And that can make big differences for your team's productivity.
How listening improves productivity is one of our most loved topics and we wanted to re-share it now because it's even more relevant today than we originally posted it almost two years ago. Read more below on how more effective listening can boost you and your team's productivity!
1. Make Meetings Work For Your Team
In their ideal form, meetings are meant to achieve important ends. A well-run meeting inspires collaboration, clarifies ambiguities, and sets clear goals for moving forward. When everyone leaves the meeting, they should feel like they're leaving with a cohesive and actionable plan — and a solid understanding of the meeting's purpose. But here's what many people really think of meetings, according to Harvard Business Review's survey of 182 senior managers:
We're entering the era of the truly collaborative workplace. According to Forbes, workers with a more collaborative mindset will stay committed to a task 64% longer than those working alone. The collaborative workers are also less prone to be fatigued, and they have a higher success rate overall. Forbes cites another study from Stanford University which found that collaboratively-inclined companies were more likely to be high-performing.
So it's clear that high levels of collaboration are linked to higher performance and productivity. How should businesses work on promoting collaboration? Well, the first step is to focus on communication at all levels. It's impossible to collaborate effectively on a project if members of the team aren't listening to one another.
Think about it: if individuals on a team have ideas, concerns, or suggestions that aren't being properly heard, how can anything move forward? If your team feels like their professional input is ignored or misunderstood, how can they possibly contribute to collaborative projects effectively? By promoting better listening skills, you can take your teams' collaborative efforts to the next level of performance.
3. Improve your Bottom Line: Client or Customer Facing Results
Most businesses have a customer or client-facing division. This looks different across all industries. In the medical industry, for example, you might be engaging directly with clients seeking health services. If you're in sales, your team is actively trying to promote excellent products to consumers.
You probably already see where this is going. If you have clients or customers who feel like they're not being heard, understood, or listened to, then it frankly doesn't matter how stellar your services or products are. Incredibly, businesses lose $62 BILLION per year due to poor customer service.
When you practice better listening with clients and customers, it leads to some undeniable positives:
Let's take a look at some alarming facts about employee engagement. According to Gallup, only 34% of employees feel engaged at work. By "engaged," this means that they are passionately involved in their work life and actively contributing to innovation. Still more alarming is the fact that 13% of employees are actively disengaged, meaning that they are so miserable with their jobs that they undermine the business and other employees constantly.
And engagement definitely has a ripple effect in the workplace: the same Gallup survey reports that more engaged work forces have higher employee retention rates, higher productivity, and are 21% more profitable. According to Gallup, companies with impressive rates of engagement owe some of that success to "continuous company-wide communication."
By promoting a culture of listening at your business or company, you can take the first step towards a more engaged work force. If your employees feel like their concerns, ideas, and questions aren't being heard, then it makes sense their engagement would be low. There can be no engagement without communication, and there can be no adequate communication without good listening.
5. Innovation & Constant Improvement
Let's take a look at Google, one of the most innovative companies of our era. How do they maintain such a high level of innovation? According to Google, one of the ways they foster innovation is to "launch, and keep listening." In other words, they make feedback a consistent part of their creation cycle. Additionally, Google emphasizes the power of sharing everything within teams. Ideas are freely circulated and shared with other team members, so that innovative solutions can be sought.
Innovation comes from the power of human ideas. In a workplace where employees consistently feel like their input is not valued, they're going to be far less likely to innovate and explore opportunities for growth. Encourage your staff to seek constant improvement by truly listening to them. Additionally, teach them how to listen to one another and grow from personal experience.
How to Improve Listening Skills
Better listening is pivotal to increasing productivity in the workplace, but how do you achieve this goal? At ECHO Listening Intelligence, we strive to improve listening skills in professional environments. We understand that every human brain is different, so everyone therefore listens in a different way. Our goal is to identify and strengthen individuals' natural listening skills in order to boost effective communication — and productivity. If you're interested in learning more about Listening Intelligence, read more in our white paper below!
By Allison O'Brien
I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “I hate sales.” Whether they said it from the perspective of “I don’t want to sell,” or “I don’t like the feeling of being ‘sold’ to,” I get it. I hate the typical notion of sales as well, what it is and how it’s generally done. But that’s not how it has to be. We can shift that paradigm by making sales about learning and listening first.
Last week I had a conversation with a friend in my network about the opportunity to attend a free webinar presented by an organization supporting women in sales. This friend is self-employed and does incredible work that makes a difference; she facilitates communication training for leaders and teams, specifically focused on enhancing leadership listening capabilities. In our current corporate culture, I believe we need more of what she does. But she is reluctant to “sell.” She told me, “I’m not a salesperson. I’m a teacher and a listener. I want to make the world a better place by teaching people how to listen and understand each other. That’s how we change the way business is done.”
Admittedly, she resists anything having to do with sales training, CRMs, follow-up cadence, etc. She said, “I don’t want to sell. When people find me, we have a conversation and I try to understand them, and they understand me and then they decide to work with me.”
So I said, “Then actually, I would say you’re one of the best salespeople I know!” Clearly, she listens and builds trust in order to “close the deal.” Then I thought, "What if she were able to have many more of those conversations? What would that ultimately do for her income and the impact she can make in the world?"
At the most fundamental level, people want to feel heard and understood, not spoken at or sold to. Unfortunately, this is how our culture views sales; salespeople talk too much and don’t listen enough. In fact, a 2016 global survey fielded by HubSpot, 69% of buyers wish that their salesperson listened to their needs and 61% want a seller that “isn’t pushy” and provides information relevant to them. In a sales role, without a commitment to listen first versus advocate, it’s nearly impossible to build trust, and trust is ranked the number one component in choosing to work with a salesperson by 51% of decision-makers.
I suggest we shift our perspective and consider sales to be an even exchange. Maybe my friend was onto something. What if we were to call ourselves Listeners instead of Salespeople? The most critical aspect of meeting the needs of our buyer and closing a sale is being able to listen to their needs and articulate how we can meet them. Listening comes first. Speaking and sharing information comes dead last. In between, ask questions to confirm what is important to them. Here are four simple things you can do to start shifting the sales experience, both for you and your potential clients and customers:
By Allison O'Brien
The first time you meet someone new in a business or personal setting, the first question typically asked is, “What do you do for work?”
When I say, “I teach listening,” they usually perk up, lean in, and often laugh and say, “Oh man do I need you! I’m a terrible listener!” or “We really need you at my company. No one listens.”
So to that first response I say, “There’s no such thing as a good or bad listener. Listening is a brain-based habit. We develop habits over time and the good news is you can change a habit if you put some intentional effort towards it. It’s hard and takes a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”
To the second reaction I say, “I agree. Every company needs the work I do because there’s a huge cost to poor listening.”
In fact, 70% of small to medium sized businesses say “ineffective communication” is their primary problem. A study by SIS International reported that SMBs spend 17.5 hours per week clarifying miscommunications. This translates into annual costs of $524,569 due to lost productivity. That same figure grows to $37 billion in Fortune 500 companies!
Given the costs, it makes sense to put some time and effort into improving the way teams communicate, specifically how they leverage listening to improve business results.
Unfortunately, listening and communication are often considered to be “soft skills” in the workplace, leading companies to invest more time and money into technical and sales training. The misperception is that “hard skills” are believed to translate directly into profitability, whereas “soft skills” aren’t perceived to directly contribute to the bottom line. One explanation is that we live in a culture that values speed and there is a systemic belief that slowing down for what is perceived as non-essential training means decreased productivity.
It has been proven, however, that listening is actually a hard skill that drives ROI and business results. Companies with highly effective communicators have had a 47% higher total return to shareholders compared to the least effective communicators. These same companies are three and a half times more likely to significantly outperform their industry peers.
If companies want to increase bottom line, they have to slow down and invest training and development dollars into improving communication and specifically developing Listening Intelligence, the skill and agility we develop over time when we gain greater awareness of our individual listening preferences and apply that understanding when communicating with our colleagues and teams.
Here are 2 things you can do to improve Listening Intelligence within your organization:
1. Embrace the full communication equation.
Speaking is only 1/2 of the conversation. People spend between 70-80% of their workday engaged in some form of communication, and approximately 55% of that time is devoted to listening.
We spend so much time and effort thinking about how to present information, but very little awareness is placed on how we receive it. As a result, we don’t even realize we’re usually missing part of what’s being communicated. Have you ever left a meeting thinking everyone is aligned and it becomes clear later that people are going forward in completely different directions? Our unconscious listening biases can explain what we take away from conversations and then how we apply what we hear, which can lead to misallocated time and resources due to misunderstandings.
If we want to create more valuable, collaborative and innovative conversations, we need to put more energy into how we listen than how we speak.
2. Devote time and money towards formal listening training.
Research shows that people habitually listen to and for different things and that’s why we walk away from conversations and meetings with completely different take-aways of what’s been said.
In 2010 it was estimated that 11 million meetings happen daily in the US (3 billion per year). What if we were able to communicate very clearly in our meetings so that we didn’t have to spend 17.5 hours of our workweek clarifying miscommunications? What if we left meetings with every member of the team sharing a common understanding of intended outcomes and specific deliverables? That would allow us to be accountable to each other without having to spend valuable time with rework.
Every one of us has a unique listening style that determines what we tend to listen to and for, what we tend to miss, and what might have us shut down and stop listening altogether. In the context of a meeting, if we are all paying attention to different things, we are missing others. When information has to be repeated, the time of all group members is wasted. In a 6-person team, for example, repeating 5 minutes of information wastes 30 minutes of work time.
The ECHO Listening Profile is one tool of many that can be used in training and development to help teams better understand how to communicate more effectively, making more efficient use of time and resources, while reducing stress in the process.
While it feels counterintuitive, I encourage companies to “slow down to speed up.” Take the time to invest in formal listening training to improve the other half of communication within your organization, then notice what happens to the bottom line.
By Allison O'Brien
We live in polarizing times. You’re either on my side, or you’re not. You agree with me, or you don’t. You get it, or you’re one of “them.”
Whether it’s at home or in the workplace, when we’re faced with differences in opinion, something happens in our brains that makes it almost impossible to truly listen and learn from one another. In these moments, we actually have a physiological response in our neurochemistry that prevents us from being open to different perspectives. We’re unable to set aside our biases to collaboratively create solutions we couldn’t have come to on our own.
When we disagree, our brain perceives that different viewpoint as a threat. That threat triggers a response from the part of our brain that is designed to guarantee our safety, the amygdala. When the amygdala perceives a threat, it sacrifices accuracy for speed. Unfortunately, it can’t distinguish between a real threat, like someone coming at us with a knife, and a social threat, like our boss dismissing our idea in front of the rest of the team. When we’re in the midst of that biological reaction due to a perceived threat, listening stops. We can’t reason, discern truth, or make clearly informed decisions when we’re in the midst of an amygdala hijack.
In order to regain our ability to listen, we need to recover the thinking, reasoning, and discerning part of the brain with the intention of listening to learn. Coming to mutual understanding in the midst of disagreement is a three-step process requiring a deep commitment to genuine curiosity.
Step 1: Identify the facts
Start with what you agree on. Identify the circumstances that are indisputable and mutually observable. If you are arguing about a fact, it’s not a fact; it’s an opinion or an explanation. Get clear on the undeniable facts.
Step 2: Seek their viewpoint
Stop talking! Before sharing your own viewpoint, regardless of whether you “know” the answer and are “right,” ask for their point of view. Don’t speak until they finish completely. Ask questions to clarify. Be so open to their perspective that it might actually change yours. Go into every challenging conversation hoping that you will learn something that will change your mindset.
Step 3: Share your viewpoint
Consider what you’ve learned. Did their opinion enhance yours? Did you gain insight that would allow your viewpoints to come together to create something that didn’t exist in exclusion of the other?
We know that as stakes get higher, the consequences of the decisions we make are greater. We can’t make smart decisions together if we can’t manage our emotions when we disagree. If we have a critical collaborative decision to make, we have to commit to listening to learn. It requires a commitment to curiosity, the root of deep-seated learning. How willing are you to be deeply curious when viewpoints differ?