In an era focused on pushing messages, posting images and promoting products, has the art of listening lost its currency? Possibly.
Does that mean listening skills are no longer important? Absolutely not.
For property managers, landlords and insurance professionals like me, listening is as important as ever. If we don't listen to our clients, we can't do our job.
When we don't listen properly, messages are misunderstood, communication breaks down and our clients become irritated. When we are listening properly, we keep our customers happy, we make fewer mistakes and we’re more creative and collaborative.
Given that we spend most of our time communicating with each other, how can we improve our listening techniques?
Here are my top eight tips:
- Focus: It sounds obvious but it’s important to turn off your mobile, ignore emails and give the conversation 100 per cent of your attention. If you can’t resist it, then turn the alert volume down.
- Eye contact: When meeting face-to-face, maintain eye contact and you’ll be surprised by how much you retain your focus.
- Hold your tongue: As tempting as it is to explain or share a similar story, wait until the person has finished speaking. And even when they finish a sentence, hold back a little. People will often continue talking after a brief silence.
- Listen to tone and themes: It’s important to listen to a person’s tone of voice and not just their words; that way you can read between the lines and sort out exactly what they mean and what they need from you.
- Be empathetic and open-minded: Even if you disagree with a statement it is (almost always) courteous to wait until the speaker is finished before interjecting or explaining, as you might change your own view when all the facts are presented.
- Pause, then respond: Research shows we hear up to four times faster than we talk, so take time to digest what’s been said, then have your say. Sometimes people just want to talk, while other times they will be looking for a solution.
- Ask questions: Clarify any confusion by asking questions. Don’t feel forced to respond with inadequate information.
- Ask for feedback: If you’re unclear about a client's needs, then ask. I find it useful to paraphrase questions or solutions with: “So you’re saying...” or “So you’re seeking..." Then I always make notes so I can refer back to them to action any resolutions.
Listening is an art form we can work on every day. It’s certainly not rocket science and we can all become experts in both our work and personal lives.
Sharon Fox-Slater is the managing director of RentCover, a division of EBM, which insures 120,000 investment properties around Australia. With over 20 years’ experience in landlord insurance, Sharon’s top priority is customer service and positive customer comments are her biggest marker of success. Despite leaving school at 15, Sharon has forged a ground-breaking career – she was the first woman to become a fellow of the National Insurance Brokers Association. Sharon was honoured to have been included in Insurance Business magazine’s Elite Brokers 2013 list.