Before Carrol Caldwell adds a new product to her line of vinyl lettering and digital transfers, the small business owner uses one readily available tool to decide if she should proceed—her ears.
“When I have a new idea, the first thing I do is listen,” says the owner of Wall Words. “Rather than talking about what I think are the merits of my idea, I listen to the feedback of my employees, customers and other small business owners. I find that closing my mouth and opening my ears tells me everything I need to know about whether a concept will work.”
As Caldwell has discovered, listening is an invaluable skill that every small business owner would be wise to embrace. “My best discoveries have been made by letting information come to me,” she says. “I’ve experienced my most productive conversations that way.”
As a small business owner, finding ways to establish meaningful connections with potential and existing clients is one of the most valuable things you can do. Listening holds the key. Consider these five good reasons for listening more and talking less, and see how you can hone your listening skills.
#1 – Builds trust
“Ultimately, everyone is in the same business,” says Chris Majer, author of The Power to Transform: Passion, Power, and Purpose in Daily Life. “You may think you are in technology, advertising or sales, but what you are in is the trust-building business,” he says. “The product or service you offer only becomes a possibility for your customer AFTER you’ve built trust between yourself and the client.”
When you truly listen to clients, they see that you really do care about them and their circumstances. To build a rapport of mutual respect that breeds trust, set aside your “sales” hat, put away your opinions and preconceived notions and listen as if the concept is brand new to you.
#2 –Broadens your perspective
“Listening allows you to learn and even unlearn information,” says small business owner Candace Smith, founder and director of Etiquette for the Business of Life. “What a boring and one-sided place the world would be if it were only you and your opinions.”
Think of your conversations as fishing expeditions designed to uncover information about the people with whom you’re speaking. Listen for clues as to preferences and business practices, which will give you the information you need to better negotiate or offer the appropriate services. Also take the opportunity to ask open-ended questions, which can lead to even deeper communication.
#3 – Saves time, money and resources
It may seem to take longer to stop and listen, but the fact is you’ll save everyone a tremendous amount of time, frustration and money in the long run. Taking the time to discover, for instance, the look and feel someone wants for a company banner that you’re designing prevents you from having to redesign and reprint the piece.
Ensure that you’re both on the same page by repeating details during your conversations. Doing so may seem repetitive, but it ensures that you heard what you think you heard and that you’re all in agreement about what’s been said.
#4 – Strengthens your position as a leader in your field
Being an effective business owner doesn’t mean pontificating and ignoring the thoughts and opinions of others. “It’s a turnoff to be an all-knowing motor mouth,” says Smith. “Taking turns in conversation is necessary and not optional. When you’re known for listening, your views are more likely to be sought, because those around you know you possess a deeper understanding of the issues, challenges, options and solutions.”
Keep your mouth shut and let others say their fill, and when you do speak they’re likely to listen. The silent observer is often considered the wisest—and rightly so.
#5 – Enables you to take effective action
The information you gather from truly listening allows you to develop and undertake much more effective actions for the tasks at hand.
“Listening is critical to problem solving,” says Smith. “If you are always talking, you lose sight of the problem. Whether you are in conversation with someone else or in your own mind, quiet is necessary to know where you stand and what you must do.”
Ultimately, people want to be heard and to know that their thoughts and opinions matter. Learn to listen to your customers and show that you have heard them through your actions, and they’re likely to repay you with years of repeat business.