Have you ever had the distinct feeling that the person you were speaking to wasn't really listening? Were you convinced the person was a million miles away, give or take a hundred thousand? Has it ever gotten so bad that if your words went in one ear and out the other, it would be a step in the right direction?
Do you suppose other people have ever had that reaction when speaking to you?
For some reason, human beings are designed so that hearing is easy, but listening is difficult. Yet in working with customers, listening - really listening, not just going through the motions—is critical to success.
Here are some reminders:
Don't jump to conclusions. Jumping is so easy, especially if you're inclined to think, "What does this dingbat want this time?" Resist the urge to turn off your mental hearing aid. A key part of caring listening is to avoid drawing premature conclusions about the person or what the person is saying. Some people never let facts stand in the way of a hasty conclusion. Are you one of them?
Don't interrupt. You already know what you think: spouting off won't help you understand the other person's perspective. Make a commitment to keep the old trap shut and to simply listen. Test yourself by seeing how long you can do it. At first, 15 seconds will seem like an eternity. Then go for 30. Then an entire endless minute. Although remaining silent is chomping-at-the-bit difficult, you will learn much more by listening than if you constantly interject your own views.
Seek to know more. Ask questions about what you heard. If you don't have any questions, you can still draw the person out by asking, "What else can you tell me about that?" Asking questions has the added benefit of demonstrating to your listeners that you really were listening. Not that they had any reason to suspect otherwise, of course.
Make listening a conscious activity. It's natural for your mind to wander, and even more natural to let it. You can reduce mental meandering, however, by cutting it short when you become aware of it. Every time you notice that your mind has wandered, respond immediately with a silent Oops, and resume listening. With practice, you can even train a little voice in your head to interrupt your wanderings and bring you back to the present. Do not engage in a conversation with this voice while others are around.
Use a trick recommended by Nonlisteners Anonymous. If worse comes to worse, and you'd rather have a root canal than listen for one more second, pretend you're a famous anthropologist. You've just arrived in a remote village where your mission is to make sense of the natives. They're not like anyone you've ever encountered before so you have to listen carefully. Try it. It works! (But do your best to keep a straight face, OK?)