Listening isn’t easy

22 September 2017

Michelle Gibbings

Michelle is a workplace expert and author of three books. Her latest book is 'Bad Boss: What to do if you work for one, manage one or are one’. For more information, click here.

If you want more impact with your clients, then consider saying less.

Have you ever wondered how many words the average person speaks a day? It turns out it’s around 16,000 for women and 15,500 for men.

However, much of what is said is never heard because humans are great at talking, but less good at listening. We are often much more focused on what we want to say than what the other person is saying. And yet, listening is crucial to building sustainable and healthy relationships – particularly with your clients.

Your clients want to know that you understand them and their needs, and that you are able to help them reach their financial goals. The best way to do this is to be fully present when they speak to you and really hear what they are saying.

Listening isn’t easy

Listening takes practice. It requires you to be in the best possible headspace and focused. And that means – no distractions. However, the work environment is full of distractions.

In a typical work day, you’ll rush from meeting to meeting. Send a few emails. Return a phone call. Send an SMS. Have a conversation with a team member, and then rush to your next client meeting. Sound familiar?

The problem is, when you’re rushing, it’s likely you’ll rush the client conversation too. You’ll say what matters to you, but have less time to hear what the client really needs. If you are not in the right headspace, your attention will be fractured and you are likely to be thinking about other things, rather than what the client needs from you.

Multi-tasking is a fallacy

Everyone loves to believe that they are brilliant at multi-tasking. But the sad reality is that people can’t multi-task. It’s a myth.

When you multi-task, your attention is broken and as you switch from one activity to another, you lose concentration and ultimately, become less productive.

If you are talking on the phone to a client and checking emails at the same time, you won’t be fully concentrating on what is being said. You may think you are listening, but you won’t hear the entire conversation or fully interpret the information being delivered. You’ll miss the subtle signals that your client may be sending you about what they are feeling and thinking.

At the same time, each time you switch from one task to another your brain is activated, and that uses up precious resources. The brain isn’t hard wired to handle multiple issues simultaneously or to rapidly switch back and forward between tasks.

David Rock, in his book ‘Your Brain at Work’, uses the metaphor of the pre-frontal cortex as a stage. The pre-frontal cortex is the part of the brain that handles functions, such as thinking and decision-making.

Issues arise when there are too many actors on your stage, each trying to play multiple scenes. He notes: “While it is physically possible sometimes to do several mental tasks at once, accuracy and performance drop off quickly.”

The flipside is focus

Of course, people try to multi-task and can be single-minded in what they need from a conversation, because there is an incredible sense of busyness in today’s work environment. There always seems to be so much to do.

Think about the flipside. In a highly competitive market where the demands on financial planners are continuing to increase, you can distinguish yourself from others by taking the time to really hear your clients.

They will see you are fully present and really listening to their needs. This builds trust and ultimately confidence in you and the service you provide. All of which helps you to stand out and to grow your business.

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