Listen

Let’s take a recurring customer experience: someone orders something on the phone (telephone connection, fittings, a service,…) and thinks he has expressed himself clearly according to all the rules of the art. Then he receives something other than what he thinks he ordered. And calls again. The order that is read out to him is only very remotely similar to what he thinks he ordered. What is the reason for this? We mean listening. And we don’t mean “bad” or “good” listening. Listening is a skill that requires a lot of inner workings that no one sees. To truly hear what another is saying, we must be able to hear what is being said without interpreting or evaluating it. This requires that we become aware of our interpretation and evaluation, which includes feelings and our own interests and needs that lead to interpretation and evaluation. We may need to become aware of cultural differences. All of this alone is not always easy to implement in the hectic pace of everyday life. Many call centers now resort to the trick of having employees repeat an order as they understood it until the customer says “yes, I’ll order that”. If even a seemingly simple order holds so much potential for misunderstandings when listening, how difficult is it to implement listening in everyday interpersonal (corporate) life? Because it is not easy to leave interpretation and evaluation, one’s own feelings and needs, aside for the time being, especially if one is committed to the matter at hand. And even if you manage not to interrupt the other person, does that mean you have listened? In any case, you have heard your own inner dialogue (“yes, but…”, “no, but that torpedoes all my projects”, “typical XY”, …), but the other person? So the main point of listening is to let the inner dialogue be silent for a few minutes and to distance oneself from one’s feelings and interests for a moment in order to give space to the other person and let him/her be valid. This is hard. And it takes practice. But with this skill, we would not only communicate better, but also use resources that let us be more creative, innovative and professional in shaping our environment. We could hear things that we didn’t know before.

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