[Guest post] What is good listening?

About 10 years ago I was burned out on the hectic pace of working in design. I had spent more than two decades consulting on branding projects for multinational companies. Big brands. The work paid well, but I was always in the midst of a work related fire drill. The projects were high visibility so there was tremendous pressure and no room for mistakes. I knew I needed to find some other type of work, and it took more than a year to figure out what I wanted to do next. After much soul-searching I settled on training as a business coach.

As I was growing my coaching business, I continued working in design. I was surprised to find that my design business became a lot easier. I was better at handling clients and had stronger relationships with them. This change came about because, as part of the coach training, I had learned to truly listen.

Good listening builds relationships, and relationships are at the core of every successful business.

Often people will say they have listened, and can recite back exactly your words and the literal meaning. But is that enough?

I don’t think so. This is the most superficial level of listening, where we hear the words that are spoken, but we miss everything else. We are primarily focused on what is going on inside of us. We are tuned into our own worries, judgements, and desired outcomes. We might be thinking about what we want to say, what’s for lunch, or another deadline.

True listening is a skill that involves noticing what is beyond the words. You are not thinking about yourself, and whether or not you like what is being said. This type of listening requires that you show up with nothing on your mind and listen from a neutral place, ready to take in what else is being expressed, the energy and emotion. For example, you might notice the anxiety behind a client’s words as they talk about the difficulty of making a design decision. This will allow you to respond with more compassion to their struggle, which can strengthen your relationship with them.

Here are a few tips if you are interested in becoming a better listener:

  • Attempt to give the other person 100% of your attention. Try to empty your mind of any other concerns or agendas.
  • Try your best to show up neutrally, not thinking about whether you agree or disagree with what the other person is saying.
  • Notice the emotion and energy behind what the other person is saying. Are they speaking quickly? Do they sound excited? Are their arms crossed, is their body tense?
  • Don’t interrupt the other person while they are speaking. Wait to say something until they are completely finished. Being listened to often helps people find their own answers.

When you listen beyond the words, you will be able to communicate in a way that helps your client to feel more fully supported and understood. That will strengthen your relationship with them, which is always good for business.

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Sandra Koenig is a brand coach and designer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She enjoys helping organizations and entrepreneurs discover their vision and launch powerfully authentic brands. You can learn more about Sandra at www.brandingharmony.com

If you like this, you'll enjoy my recent podcast episode with Sandra about what exactly is a brand coach.