by Diane Berenbaum or Tom Larkin
The importance of listening--careful listening--can’t be overstated. Listening doesn’t mean merely hearing words. It’s hearing what they signify. But listening is not merely a physical process, it is very much a learned skill...one that goes well beyond bending an ear in someone’s direction and looking as though you’re engaged.
There are really four levels of listening:
1. Level One -- Here, the dialogue itself is largely transactional - focused on the task.
2. Level Two -- Rapport building characterizes this level of listening. You ask more questions to gain a greater sense of the other person’s meaning.
3. Level Three -- The dialogue is characterized by a sense of warmth and perception. The focus at this level is on empathy.
4. Level Four -- This is the deepest level. Your attention is often intuitive and you remain largely silent.
Much of our communication--particularly in a business setting-- occurs at levels one and two. It’s largely an empirical process, dominated by an exchange of facts and figures. That’s not to say it’s "bad" -- just, perhaps, not as effective as the level of listening that we would like to establish.
By contrast, Level Four focuses on letting the other person talk and typically only occurs in close relationships where there is trust and mutual respect.
Level Three listening is attentive, nonjudgmental, and genuinely recognizes the other person’s feelings and perspective ... it’s in a word, empathic. This is the level you want to achieve in your interactions with customers.
HOW TO LISTEN AT LEVEL THREE
However desirable, listening at Level Three is often difficult. We may be preoccupied with other concerns, distracted by what’s happening around us or simply eager to address the problem.
If you have a tendency to listen at Level One or Two (listening for facts and details), then you will not "hear" what the customer is really saying. You need to listen to his words and tone in a different way ... in a way that goes beyond the facts. Level Three is about listening for and acknowledging their feelings and the significance of the issue. Then and only then are you really connecting with the customer, and thereby, building or restoring the relationship.
So, what do you do when you listen at Level Three? First, listen for the big picture and be careful to not get bogged down in the words and details that are coming at you. Provide a space for the customer to share what’s on his mind, without interruption.
To be truly empathic, choose a non-judgmental attitude. Watch your tendencies to make assumptions, judge what you are hearing or project how you would think or feel in that situation. Just recognize how the person is feeling and accept what she shares.
Level Three listening is distinctly different from what we tend to do in our customer interactions. But if you get it right, it will help your conversations with your customers go more smoothly because your customers will respond to you differently. They will recognize that you care and have the ability and willingness to help.
When you choose to listen at Level Three, you influence your customers’ perception of you and your ideas. They’ll be more receptive and open to collaboration.
The above is an excerpt from the book "How To Talk To Customers" by Diane Berenbaum and Tom Larkin, Senior Vice Presidents of Communico Ltd., a customer service training and consulting company. You can order your copy of the book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.