Listen with the Right Intent


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Image courtesy of Unsplash | André Spieker

When you listen to customers or to employees, do you really listen? Or are you already anticipating your response or your reaction before they’re finished talking?

Stephen R. Covey said:

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

Unfortunately, this is so true.

I previously wrote:  

When we think about a conversation, we typically understand that it has two parts: speaking and listening. It’s a two-way street. I would actually add a third component: hearing. Yes, we talk; and yes, we say we listen. But do we actually hear what has been said? I think hearing requires a subsequent action or reaction. And in the customer conversation, that part is often missing.

When you listen, make sure you hear what is being said before you act or react. When you stop, listen, and really hear, you are better able to understand customers’ (or employees’, as this applies to both) needs and jobs they are trying to do, allowing you to better design for those jobs or to fulfill those needs. You’re also better able to understand their questions or issues and address those or point customers in the right direction to get the issues resolved. In a timely manner.

Not only does hearing ensure you better understand but you may also discover that the customer is  saying more than you thought. The tone, pitch, or inflection of his voice or his body language (if you’re seeing him in person) can tell you more than the words he is saying. Use those cues, combined with what is being said, to form your response – after the customer is finished talking. If you’re ready to reply after his first sentence, you might be missing some things.

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said. -Peter Drucker

If you listen, if you hear, with the intent to reply, you don’t hear everything that is being said. The focus of the conversation is singular rather than broader, perhaps opening up doors to other topics, features, sales, options, etc. If you listen with the intent to reply, you…

  • judge before you know all the facts
  • are disrespectful
  • analyze and prematurely form opinions
  • will misunderstand
  • miss opportunities

On the other hand, if you listen, if you hear, with the intent to understand, you open up the possibilities. Better yet, listen with intent to…

  • understand
  • clarify
  • show respect
  • let customers or employees know they are valued
  • improve the experience
  • connect 
  • hear

Use active listening as a way to show that you’ve heard what is being said. Active listening means that you paraphrase back to the person you’re speaking with your understanding of what he just said to you. This exercise allows you to confirm not only what you heard but also what your understanding is. It can really help to avoid confusion.

Have you trained your frontline staff to listen with the right intent in their customer conversations? Do they use active listening? Are you hearing- really hearing – what your employees are saying to you?

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. -Bryant H. McGill

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Annette Franz
Annette Franz is founder and Chief Experience Officer of CX Journey Inc. She is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, consultant, and speaker. She has 25+ years of experience in helping companies understand their employees and customers in order to identify what makes for a great experience and what drives retention, satisfaction, and engagement. She's sharing this knowledge and experience in her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the "Customer" in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business).


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