When you are not presenting to investors or your team, try to spend more time listening than talking. You can’t learn anything new while you’re talking, yet many entrepreneurs seem to never stop. It’s a sad spiral, since the more you talk, the less people really hear, meaning they don’t learn anything either. If someone left this article on your desk, read extra carefully.
Building a business is all about building relationships, and one of the most important elements of a relationship is effective communication.
Communication doesn’t happen unless both parties practice the art of effective listening. Check to see if you are practicing the key disciplines of listening, as outlined by Brian Tracy in “No Excuses: the Power of Self-Discipline”:
• Listen attentively. Listen as though the other person is about to reveal a great secret or the winning lottery number and you will hear it only once. Since you always pay attention to what you most value, when you pay close attention to another person, you tell that person that they are of great value to you. You will be remembered.
• Pause before replying. When you pause, you avoid the risk of interrupting the other person if they are reformulating their thoughts. It also enables you to hear not only what was said, but what was not said. Then you can respond with greater awareness and sensitivity.
• Ask for clarification. Never assume that you automatically know what the other person is thinking or feeling. It is when you ask questions and seek clarity that you demonstrate that you really care about what he or she is saying, and that you are genuinely interested in understanding how he or she thinks and feels.
• Feed it back. The acid test of listening is to see if you can paraphrase what you heard in your own words. It is only when you can repeat back what the other person has just said, in your own words, that you prove you are really listening, and understood the message. For all feedback, be sure to mirror the other person’s pace and communication style.
Even good communicators average only about half their time listening. Yet experts assert that most people listen with only about 25 percent of their attention, hear about 25 percent of what is said, and after two months, remember only half of that. That’s not effective communication.
There are also things you can do to encourage others to listen to you, when you do speak, to improve the overall communication:
• Lower voice, no emotion. This causes the other party to listen more carefully, and facilitates a more pleasant and more effective conversation.
• Adapt to listener interests. Use analogies and terminology that are easy for the other person to relate to, and they will respond with attention and higher comprehension.
• Choose the right environment. Wait for the right opportunity, when you can be easily heard and understood, and the listener is in the right mood.
• Address people by name. This gets their attention and focus. Sometimes it helps to bring others into the conversation to support your input.
In business, you need to always be listening – to customers, to advisors, to investors, and to your team members. When you do talk, concentrate on making it effective. You don’t have the time to have things repeated to you four times before you really hear and understand them. Outbound marketing is all talking, and no listening.
Responsible, effective listening is a rare skill that will give you a sustainable competitive advantage over your peers and your competitors.
It’s also a skill that can be developed with practice. You can never know enough in business, so even top entrepreneurs find time to listen. Are you learning anything these days?
CEO & Founder of Startup Professionals, Inc.; Advisory Board Member for multiple startups; ATIF Angels Selection Committee; Entrepreneur in Residence at ASU and Thunderbird School of Global Management.