A lot of marketing, and in fact a lot of business, focuses on talking or “producing content.” Marketers tend to focus on pushing out the message, getting that vision statement out there, building the brand, and advertising products or services. Business people tend to focus on selling ideas to the c-suite, running meetings, and securing leadership status. But listening is just as important as sending content out. In fact, if you don’t listen, and listen carefully, what you send out can do more harm than good.

In The Commitment Engine, the latest book from Duct Tape Marketing author John Jantsch, talks about what he calls perceptive listening. He defines this as “I hear and interpret the words, but I also consider what the person is thinking and perhaps how they are acting as they say the words.” This is a key point, not just for offline communications but also, and perhaps moreso, for online communications. Take a moment and think about how we act online. We see something we like on Facebook, so we click a button that says, “like.” On Twitter, if we see something interesting, we click a button that says, “Retweet.” On Google Plus, the button we click is +1. On Pinterest, it’s “repin.” Our response mechanisms have become so predictable that we almost don’t need to fully consider what is being said. We like it enough to click a button or we don’t.

Jantsch points out that often, we “hear” but we don’t listen. I read another post recently that talked about the same thing – we may look like we’re listening, but really what we are doing is we are hearing words while at the same time formulating how we want to respond. Once we hit upon the retort we want to make, we probably stop listening even though we may still be hearing.

When we are talking to our customers or when we are talking to people we work with, it can be harmful to do anything other than perceptive listening. If we don’t truly take in what these people are saying, we cannot respond fully in the ways they are hoping for. Indeed, in a survey that Second Wind, an organization devoted to small marketing firms, conducted about five years ago, the most common complaint clients had about agencies was that agencies don’t truly listen. This might come as a shock if you’re a marketer, but there is a difference between hearing, listening with the intention of responding, and truly listening while absorbing what the other person is saying. No matter what business you’re in, to excel at customer service you must learn how to listen perceptively.

Jantsch offers a few suggestions that can help hone the ability to listen perceptively. For example, sit down with a customer and ask them some very pointed questions. For example, you could start by asking them what their favorite thing about working with your company is. Don’t listen with the intent of defending yourself or offering an alternative to what they say. Instead, watch them as they respond. Watch their body language. Does their face brighten with enthusiasm or do they squirm uncomfortably because nothing comes to them right away? The same exercise can be done with your employees or co-workers. Ask questions and pause to really listen. You might be surprised by what you learn.

There was at some point several years ago an experiment conducted on a college campus. A person went around greeting people the way we always greet people. “Hey, how you doing?” Inevitably, the response was, “Oh, hey, how are you?” The person doing the experiment responded with, “Eh, I have cancer.” More often than not, the experiment revealed that the other person was so far from listening that they would sometimes even respond with, “Oh, that’s great. Gotta run!” That experiment comes to mind while reading Jantsch’s section about perceptive listening. As a marketer, as a business person, we cannot afford to be so hurried in our responses. We must listen not just with our ears, but also with our brains.

Do you find that you hear more than you listen? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Note: This is our ninth post in our series inspired by John Jantsch’s The Commitment Engine. To catch up on the rest of the series, just click here!

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bearpark/2706701983/ via Creative Commons