Want to Win at Client Service? Listen to Understand

mm
  • May 5, 2015
  • Starr Million Baker

I recently read an article over at Spin Sucks about 5 traits public relations professionals should possess. The one that has stuck with me the most is one I believe relevant to all walks of life – listen to understand, not just to reply. This is an important distinction for public relations in particular. Clients depend on our counsel and guidance. How can we advise if we aren’t listening?

If you’re talking, you can’t be listening. This is a pretty easy rule of thumb. If you’re talking, if you’re repeating, butting in, or otherwise not consciously just being, you can’t also be listening. Oh sure, you can get the gist of the content, but you are missing important context clues. Many people believe that talking while listening is possible, and that it’s called conversation. That’s fine, but when you’re dealing with clients you are working, first and foremost. So don’t have conversations, have constructive meetings where you’re listening more, talking less.

Read your audience. A key benefit of talking less, listening more, is that you can then truly start to read your audience. Are they saying “Yes, but…” a lot? This means you’re not getting it and they are just too nice to be direct enough to point it out. Are arms crossed, is eye contact not being made? These physical clues provide context as to how well your ideas are going over. If you are listening to respond, you are going to spend a lot of time going back and forth on recommendations, plans, counsel and strategy. If you are listening to understand, you will be able to read your audience and more quickly get to an agreed-upon plan of action.

We are fixers. We want to come up with the solution, solve the problem, be the first person with the right answer – win the day! This attribute of so many public relations practitioners is the big thing that makes us go-getters and able to do the job we do with enthusiasm every day. But it can also be a hindrance. Not everything requires a fix, and if we think it does then we are likely listening to respond more often than not. Get out of the fix-it mode, and get into the understand-it mode. This subtle shift will allow you to become a true partner to your client and provide the type of business insight and strategic counsel they need.

It has long been a strategy of mine, when meeting a new client or going into a big planning meeting with a current client, that I am prepared to ask smart questions. Smart questions show that I have an understanding of what they do or what they want to accomplish, but also that I know I don’t know everything. Smart questions help clients open up and share the information I need to know to get my job done and align their PR program with their business. Smart questions also ensure I am listening to understand, not listening to respond.

Keep your ears open – and your mouth (fairly) shut. You will be surprised by how much you learn.