In my world, my clients come to me asking how to talk to their customers …
“How do I tell people about our next fundraising event?”
“How do I share the details about our latest product?”
“How do I get the word out about our grand opening?”
“How do I communicate these success stories?”
Oddly enough, never has a client asked me how to listen to his customers.
So what does that mean? I’d say it means we are only using half the tools in our communications tool belts.
Consider the significant relationships in your life. Maybe you are picturing your mom or dad, brother or sister, best friend or significant other, a colleague at work.
Humor me now and imagine you are the only one who communicates in that relationship. You pick up the phone and call your mom, launching into the latest drama of your kids. You pause … silence. No reaction, no thoughtful response, not even laughter. You Slack your coworker with important questions regarding an upcoming project. Nothing. All evening, you bubble with excitement about the details of a recent meeting, but your husband doesn’t utter a word.
Ok, so I’m being completely unrealistic and rather facetious, but only to prove a point. Clearly, we don’t have any productive, long-term relationships in our life that are wholly one-sided. We regularly alternate between being the communicator and being the listener.
So why in our businesses are we only concerned with pushing out information to our constituents?
In the “early days” of social media (which seems like a lifetime ago), I actually liked the premise and saw value for businesses that couldn’t regularly call or spend time with all of their customers. Social media was created as a way to engage and interact with people via technology. People shared and started conversations on the platforms.
Now, I’m not arguing that interaction on social media has ceased to exist — oh, no I’ve read plenty of careless, thoughtless remarks on social media intertwined with the occasional useful, productive, intelligent discussion.
But how many company Facebook pages do you land on that have ZERO engagement on their posts? And by engagement, I don’t mean likes; you can pay for those. I’m referring to real customer comments, feedback, and shares. Look a little closer and tell me how many companies are regularly creating content that instigates conversation or asks for reactions?
Not only are we focused solely on pushing out material to our customers, clients, and donors, we aren’t even doing it in a way that gives us something to listen to and helps us better understand those we serve.
Are you invested in “relationships” that are completely one-sided? Do you feel committed to the success of someone who only comes to you with requests? (you know the friend I’m talking about…) Perhaps most importantly, do you believe in, or trust, those individuals?
A statistic recently caught my eye. Did you know that the past 12 months have signified the largest ever drop in public trust of business, media, and NGOs? (2017 Edelman Trust Barometer)
Because we aren’t communicating anymore.
Oh, we are all TALKING … but we aren’t listening. We aren’t conversing in meaningful, respectful dialogue. We build trust when we seek to understand one another’s unique points of view. We cultivate trust when we invite others to share their opinions, fears, and convictions, and we thoughtfully respond with more than 140 characters. Trusted partners know one another’s beliefs and values, and they appreciate them even when they differ.
Trusted relationships come about when you each ask the other, “how can I support you?”
When was the last time you asked your customer, “how can I better serve you?”
Do you frequently have conversations with your donors that don’t include requests for money, time, or talents?
We so often approach conversations with our own agendas in mind. We assume this is the best way to grow, but more often than not, when I open my mind (and heart) to listening to my companion, the impact is much greater. Sometimes I see things from a new perspective. Other times I leave with an amazing idea that will influence a current project, my long-term business objectives, or my personal ambitions. I nearly always come away with an increased level of empathy. I might even (gasp) change my opinion about an important topic.
Our world is quite possibly the noisiest it has ever been. Wading through the minute-by-minute dump of words that come from 24-hour news sources, push notifications, social media sites, emails, texts … is stressful at best, deadly at worst. It might feel like you are always listening. I would argue that we are mostly hearing, not listening. By definition listening is something we consciously choose to do and it requires concentration to process the true meaning.
Sadly, because we are hearing so much, I’m not sure we are weighing who deserves our scarce, valuable listening ear.
I invite you to flip the switch in 2018. Professionally and personally, hit pause on contributing to the noise. Take some time to consider who deserves your undivided attention, and create a plan for how you will engage those respected people throughout the next year. Approach meetings with lists of questions instead of talking points! Re-evaluate your business’ strategic communications plan and make it a balanced push-pull plan — push out stories and pull in real feedback.
Most importantly, take note about how well you actually listen these days. Test your retention level and take steps to improve it, minimizing distractions to be the best listener you can be. It might mean you need to eliminate some of the “hearing” you do in order to de-clutter your brain and grow your capacity for the important conversations. Be open to viewpoints that are different and instead of tuning them out, lean in and say, “tell me more about that.”
My gut says you’ll be surprised what you learn during your year of listening, even about people you think you already know pretty well. If you want to practice, I never turn down the opportunity to #bloomoverdrinks.