Lend An Ear: Become a Better Listener

Countless times we have been encouraged to connect with residents, tenants, team members, suppliers and others, but to do so we need to ask the right questions and then listen intently to the answers. And many of us believe we are good listeners in much the same way we believe that we are above-average drivers. More often than not though, we are not as good a listener or driver as we would like to believe.

Recent research by the leadership consultant agency Zenger/Folkman found that following the tried and true formula for listening does not necessarily make someone an effective listener. You have to do more than simply not talk when others are speaking, provide nonverbal cues that let the person to whom you are speaking with know you are paying attention (e.g., a head nod) and repeat back what they have said.

The researchers found that the best listeners don't just nod their heads. They use their noggins to process information and ask questions of the person they are speaking with to demonstrate they understand what the he or she is saying. The best listeners ask additional questions that constructively challenge assumptions. If you are looking to a new service provider that can improve service and lower costs, you might ask, “Is there a better alternative? What are the most popular applications of your product/service? What problems have other properties encountered when using your product? If you were sitting in my chair, what other questions would you ask?” The best listeners process information to ask better questions.

The best listeners also make the conversation a positive experience for the customer and help make the customer feel comfortable when they sometimes disagree with the direction the customer may be headed in.

The best listeners are able to solicit feedback from their customers without either party becoming defensive. Good listeners challenge assumptions and disagree in a way that the customer understands that they are an ally and trying to help. Challenging team members who may be headed in the wrong direction is not the issue. The way in which the challenge is framed is really the key. Challenges framed constructively and from the position of expertise have a better chance of a positive reception.

Zenger/Folkman’s study also found that good listeners don't behave like sponges. Instead, they act like trampolines. They bounce ideas off of their customers. They make others feel better instead of simply making them feel like their voice was heard. When you bounce ideas off of your residents, tenants, employees, suppliers and others that you interact with, you increase your energy and effectiveness.