THE Secret to Life, the Universe and Everything isn’t 42. Listen and learn.
In relationships of every kind, there is one skill valued above all else. No, you don’t have to have the largest set of testicles (or breasts if you happen to be a woman). You needn’t be the cockiest, most productive or charming. Some will argue that the tenacious will be most successful. Ready for it? Are you sure? Are you ready for the answer to life, the universe and everything? No. 42 is not the answer. The very first step on the long journey to success is the willingness to listen. That’s it. Shut your mouth hole and open your mind.
But but but BUT BUT BUT SHAWN!!!….But nothing folks. Yes, I see the irony in me telling you to hush so I can talk in a piece written about stopping to listen. Hear me out. People want to be heard and understood. It is an intrinsic need within us for others to see and recognize our point. In business, life, love and parenting, the one skill that will propel us to success is the one practiced the least. Silence.
I make my living in sales. I am also an introvert. My job is a struggle for me most days but I have somehow found a way to be successful. It is against my very nature to be front and center with people who come in the door. In every single interaction, I must steel myself and muster courage prior to engaging with the folks who patron our business. My career requires me to sell but I am no salesman, at least not in the traditional sense.
We have lots of different kinds of customers that come in our door. Some are quiet and reserved. They want to be left alone and will grab me when they have a question. Others know more about the product than I do and that’s just fine with me. They typically want affirmation and to see and feel the product. Some want to give me their entire life story ending with the fifteen seconds before we began our interaction. That’s OK too though I do struggle with attention span. Basically, they just want me to listen to their needs before I begin opening my mouth or coming in with an elevator pitch. Just listen. Absorb. Process the information. Relate to their needs and wants.
Once I’ve listened, and this does often involve asking appropriate and targeted questions, I can help my customers make an informed decision. Occasionally, I send them elsewhere. I happily tell my customers that it won’t bother me if they leave with purchasing. It will, however, bother me if they leave unhappy with me or the service I provided. If I fail to listen, it is all but guaranteed that I’ll miss something imperative and they’ll leave unsatisfied or worse buy something they don’t need or want. My conscience will not allow that.
What about family and friends though? Same deal. Listen first, talk later. Ask the right questions. SHOW that you care. It’s easy for us to fall into the trap of trying to fix everyone’s problems. Sometimes, however, nothing needs fixed. The only way to realize that is to actually listen. Listen not just with your ears but with your head and heart. Understand what is happening. Empathize with them. Ask reflective questions. You need not always solve the problem to solve the problem. Sometimes patiently listening is all the solution people need.
Think back to the last argument you had with someone.
Did you take the time to listen or did you instead just go all ahead full and steam on through what they were trying to say? Did THEY take the time to listen to you? Could the argument have been avoided entirely if you both had just stopped yelling and started listening? Could you have potentially ended the debate by listening closely and developing a solution that benefited everyone? Maybe not, but the odds are much better without shouting and yelling.
In almost any situation, the skill we need most and typically practice the least is listening. Listening has nothing to do with ability, it is simply a choice. Listening isn’t a natural ability like freakish athleticism or savant like ability in mathematics. We are all (yes, I recognize some are born with physical or mental issues that preclude them) born with the same ability to stop, listen and think about whats happening before formulating a response. It allows us to make informed and intelligent decisions. Work ethic, tenacity, charm: They are nearly worthless without the ability to stop and listen.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Powell/flickr