How often have you had this conversation?
“You’re not listening.”
“I was too!”
“Then what did I say?”
We make light of it, but the truth is—it can be pretty infuriating.
Much like any personal relationship, the partnerships we foster with our clients rely on good communication. Selective hearing—or poor listening skills—can erode the foundation of trust we are trying to build.
Listening in and of itself isn’t difficult. According to Psychology Today, being a good listener simply consists of being respectful, talking less than you listen, and challenging assumptions that you may have made prior to the conversation (in other words, keeping an open mind).
A Harvard Business Review study takes this a bit further, finding that good listeners exhibit a few key behaviors that go beyond just “active listening”:
- They occasionally ask questions, which indicates that they are not only listening but that they also want more information.
- They make the conversation a positive experience in which the other person feels supported and confident.
- They listen as part of a cooperative conversation, and refrain from using their listening time as a chance to prepare their next response.
- They provide constructive feedback, which is likely to be more readily accepted when the listener has followed the tips above.
Where a listener can run into trouble is missing the nuances of what the other person is saying. To truly understand each other, it’s crucial to read between the lines, ask clarifying questions, and show that we care about what the other person has to say.
When we meet with a new client for the first time, one of our goals is to get a good feel for their wants and needs. This is where listening properly is so important. For example, a client may ask for a brochure to describe their services. That might be the perfect deliverable for them, but then again, it might not.
We know that our client is an expert in their field, so we listen closely to what they have to say. And as experts in our own field, when we effectively collaborate with our client, we know the outcome will be more successful than if we didn’t.
To return to the brochure example, we might ask questions like,
Who is your target audience?
Where do you find them?
What’s your main goal with this piece?
During these discussions, we sometimes find that, yes, a brochure is exactly what our client needs; but other times, we might discover together that a social media campaign is a much better solution.
Through time, experience, and collaborative communication, we learn to interpret when a client is being literal in their request or if they are open to suggestion or interpretation; all due, in part, to the art of listening. At Hillhouse Creative, listening closely to our clients is a large part of our strategic, step-by-step process for meeting their needs.
We understand that sometimes, a client may not know exactly what services or deliverables they need. That’s why we listen to what they’re saying, we ask lots of questions, and we encourage them to ask us questions. Our client’s goal is our goal as well—and good communication is the key to reaching it.