Communication underlies all business operations, from first pitching investors to formally announcing your growth plan to your team of core employees. Countless articles have examined how to be a better communicator, giving tips about nonverbal communication, communication mediums, the tone of your speaking voice, and the type of words you use to describe things. But all of these tips and strategies focus on only one side of communication --the speaking side.
The listening side of communication is more important in a variety of contexts. Learning to actively listen is imperative if you want your business to thrive.
Consider these five ways that active listening could save your business from collapse:
1. Detect problems when they are small.
Big problems usually start out small. If your lead developer doesn’t show up for work once, that is a small problem. If that leads to the coding not being done, which leads to a missed deadline, that turns into a much bigger problem. Listening to the people in control of these problems (and potential solutions) can help you understand how your business runs, and allows you to catch potential problems before they develop.
For example, you might hear that one of your employees is starting to feel overwhelmed with the order management process. If you know that a new advertising campaign is going to double the amount of orders you receive, you can use this information to proactively hire a new order manager to help out or recreate the system to achieve a greater efficiency.
2. Open you to new ideas.
Everyone has ideas, and some of those ideas will inevitably be good ones. The problem is, most of us tend to keep our ideas to ourselves, believing they aren’t worth mentioning or feeling that they won’t be acknowledged if we bring them up.
Regularly and actively listening to your team allows you to catch some of these ideas before they get buried. A worker might casually mention a new process that seems more efficient, or a new creative concept that could work perfectly in your new advertising campaign. The potential of the human mind is limitless, and active listening exposes you to countless ideas that might otherwise slip away undetected.
3. Build trust and loyalty in your workers.
Listening isn’t all about gaining new information. It’s also a useful indicator of the health of your relationships. Sit down with your workers individually, and spend some time openly listening to whatever is on their minds, whether it’s something they’re excited about, something they’re afraid of, or random thoughts that pop into their heads. You’ll be amazed at how good they feel after knowing they’ve truly been heard.
Do this regularly, and you’ll establish a greater rapport with all your workers. They’ll learn to trust you more, and they’ll know you value their ideas, which will keep them dedicated to you and your company.
4. Your clients and partners feel valued.
Listening is essential for your client and partner relationships. Rather than going into a client meeting with a pre-planned sales pitch, spend most of your time actively listening to the problems facing your client and responding only when appropriate.
This type of communication pattern will help you understand your clients and partners better, giving you a better capacity to meet their needs. But more importantly, it will make them feel more valued, and will keep them loyal to you for as long as your relationship exists.
5. It makes your company a company.
Successful companies aren’t comprised of isolated individuals working only on their individual responsibilities. They’re comprised of tight networks of people working mutually together. When you actively listen to your employees, you’ll set a tone and establish a culture that demands regular, interactive listening on every level. Your employees will listen to you and listen to each other better, and as a result, they’ll work together better. It’s the fabric that holds the delicate interpersonal networks of a company together.
Active listening is the most important communication skill for any entrepreneur to have. Speaking well is important, but it only affects what you say to others. Active listening affects how you learn and grow from everybody else around you. Make it a point to sit down with everyone involved in your company, from your employees, to your partners, to your clients, and have open, honest conversations that drive your business forward. Once you start truly listening to the people around you, you’ll be amazed at what you can learn.