Vail Daily column: Listen, then act
December 19, 2013
One of the most important things you can do in business and in life is listen. People have great ideas and thoughts they want to share with others. Important issues or concepts are often lost, because no one takes time to listen. Good listeners are a rare breed and often hard to find. We have all struggled at some point with the frustration of finding someone willing to listen to our agenda. Taking time to listen to family, friends, customers, neighbors and community members can be very enriching. Through conversations, we find others who have similar ideas or better thoughts than we have. If we listen and incorporate suggestions, we improve our communities, businesses, friendships, families and lives.
Be aware! Listening is a learned skill, practiced better by some than by others! In some cases action is required; at other times just listening is enough. Sometimes people only want to vent. You being available is what they want, not you being their problem solver. A wise listener learns the importance of knowing the difference!
LISTENING IS MORE THAN HEARING
Listening is much more than just hearing. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines "listen" as "to pay attention to what you hear and take heed, consider what is suggested." If we carefully listen, we derive benefits from viewpoints we may not have considered. Collaboration solves issues before they escalate. Brainstorming fine-tunes ideas. Listening to customers can improve business.
Utilizing input from community members improves where we live and work. If someone suggests a solution to a problem and we do nothing, we fail to improve our situation, or worse, end up with a bigger mess!
How we deliver our message is as important as how we listen. Speaking in accusatory or argumentative tones, starting statements with "they did this … they did that … they won't do this …" sets the stage for negative reactions. Blaming others or complaining about actions of others will close doors on productive conversations. You will end up not getting anything accomplished. If you can't calmly give constructive criticism and offer helpful remedies, it is best to keep quiet. Don't exasperate problems! Come to the table with an open mind or at least be willing to discuss options that differ from yours. Seriously consider the merits of others' ideas.
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Everyone should attempt to be a good listener. If you want to improve your listening skills, try a few tested guidelines. Select a quiet comfortable atmosphere as a meeting place. Remove distractions if possible. Shut doors or windows. Lower the volume on electronics. Turn off your own thoughts. Concentrate and give full attention to the speaker. Take accurate notes. Ask questions, specifying key points. Make sure you understand. Do not assume anything, if something is not clear, ask about it. Find out what is expected of you. If you can help, immediately do so. If you're not sure about advice, ask for time to look into issues. Your goal should be quality results. Be timely in getting back; no one likes to be left hanging.
At times you will need to say "no." Be concise as to why you answer the way you do. If you like what you hear, say so. Even if you are not the person with solutions, honest encouragement goes a long way. If possible, suggest someone who can provide aid. Your key ingredient is action! Too many times conversations end at the end of the conversation. It goes no further. Don't be a dream crusher! Make sure, if you agree to listen, it is with intentions of helping or recommending someone else who might be able to give assistance. If you do a referral, follow up and check to see if the situation was solved. Stay involved until it is.
You will be surprised and amazed how many great ideas take root when you take time to listen and act on what you have heard. Listening is a skill that requires practice — do it and do it often. As you strengthen your listening skills, you will excel in ways you never imagined!
Cabal Yarne is the owner of Arriesgado Clothing in Lionshead and a board member of the Vail Chamber and Business Association.