Even after reading my previous blog post about the value of listening, many professionals might still scoff at the thought of “listening skills” training. Surely everybody knows how to listen. We spend 80% of our waking lives communicating (Dodson, 2001), so surely we have mastered listening already. It’s common sense!

It turns out that common sense is not so common. Many people know to occasionally be quiet to allow others to speak, but few people are able to truly listen.

Most People Cannot Listen

Back when I trained helpline volunteers at Nightline, we regularly rejected about a third of our potential volunteers, because these people (despite all good intentions) struggled to learn how to truly listen. After three weeks of training, they were still unable to ask good questions, to reflect appropriately, and refrain from giving opinions or passing judgement.

Of course, this lack of listening ability extends to the business world, too. When studying self-evaluations of listening skills of over 600 professionals across a wide range of sectors in three countries, Raina, Roebuck & Lee (2014) found that people tend to rate themselves on measures of listening skills as mediocre or worse. This is in contrast to the well-known tendency for most people will rate themselves as above average in almost any skill, even though obviously not everyone can be above average.

The lack of listening skills is also pervasive among higher ranking employees. Business News Daily found that over a third of employees said their boss never or rarely listens to them. As a result, the majority of employees felt their boss has damaged their self-esteem, and they were less motivated to give their best. This corroborates the research I wrote about previously, indicating that a well-listening boss leads more productive teams (Stine, Thompson, & Cusella, 1995; Sujan, Weitz & Lehmann, 1994). Despite the benefits of listening, few managers know how to.

Companies Rarely Listen

Poorly listening employees results in companies that get reputations for poor listening. Many companies are notorious for not paying attention to their customers, and this is reflected in the empathy index. This index is devised for showing which companies successfully and compassionately listen to their customers, and which don’t. (It may not surprise you that Telecoms companies rank low on this index, which is a bit ironic given that they are technically in the business of communication.)

It turns out that people have little faith in the listening abilities of most companies, according to a survey. Sadly, more than 80% of respondents believed that few or no companies actually listen to feedback. This is a shame because 97% of the same respondents said they are at least somewhat likely to become loyal patrons to a company that implements their feedback.

As I wrote previously, inadequate listening by one employee can reflect badly on the whole company (Välikoski, 2004). With poor listening skills being so pervasive among individuals, it is not surprising that people have a bad impression of corporate listening skills.

Damaged Reputations Abound

You need not look very long to find examples of poor listening that damages company reputations – just check out Twitter!

While bad listening happens on any mode of communication, I choose to write about Twitter today because it’s a public communication method that is often used as a last resort for customers. ExactTarget found that fewer than 1% of customers use Twitter as their first stop in problem resolution, and yet Twitter is full of customer queries and complaints. People usually opt to complain on Twitter when a company already failed to satisfy them in one or more traditional customer service channels. Given that tweeters are often more frustrated than the average complainant and airing their gripes in public, not listening on Twitter has the potential to create PR disasters.

One way to damage your company’s listening reputation is by not replying, and many do. Tweeting to big retail companies from fake accounts, Brandwatch found that over 30% of these companies failed to respond to direct questions sent publicly on the social media site. Of those that did respond, only 17% managed to respond within an hour. Failing to respond in a timely manner – or in some cases, not responding at all – really shows how little these companies value listening. A simple compassionate reply to show you’re listening can make all the difference.

Companies ignore customers even more when it comes to actual complaints on Twitter. A study by Maritz found that corporate Twitter accounts only responded to 29% of complaints, even though 83% of customers said they would have liked or loved a reply. Although a

Some companies who aren’t willing to invest the time to listen  may attempt to use bots to generate auto-responses, which could be even worse than no response at all. Back in 2013, American Airlines responded to every tweet with “@[customer] Thanks for your support! We look forward to a bright future as the #newAmerican” This auto-reply was grossly inappropriate on a number of occasions, including when then DNews host Tara Long tweeted to the airline that her flight delays had caused her to miss her mother’s funeral. One hopes that businesses are not quite so foolish today.

What can we do?

You know what I’m going to say here: learn to listen. Do not assume you already know how. If you struggle to listen, at least you know you’re not alone.

Learn to ask questions, reflect, show compassion, truly comprehend what has been said, and then – perhaps most importantly – make a personalised response. Get your employees to do the same and become a company that demonstrates excellent listening.

Check out our courses and coaching. This will help you, your customers, your employees, and, most of all, your company.

Executive summary

Even after reading my previous blog post, many professionals might still scoff at the thought of “listening skills” training. We spend 80% of our waking lives communicating (Dodson, 2001), but still few people know how to truly listen.

Raina, Roebuck & Lee (2014) found that people tend to rate themselves on measures of listening skills as mediocre or worse.Business News Daily found that over a third of employees said their boss never or rarely listens to them.

Many companies are notorious for not paying attention to their customers, and this is reflected in the empathy index. According to a survey, more than 80% of respondents believed that few or no companies actually listen to feedback.

One way to damage your company’s reputation is simply to not reply. A study by Maritz found that corporate Twitter accounts only responded to 29% of complaints, even though 83% of customers would have liked or loved a response. Although a simple response is so effective, many companies don’t do it. That said, it has to be a genuine response; if you use a TweetBot send auto-responses like American Airlines, you risk a PR disaster.

In short, do not assume you already know how to listen. Learn to ask questions, reflect, show compassion, truly comprehend what has been said, and then – perhaps most importantly – make a personalised response. Check out our courses and coaching. This will help you, your customers, your employees, and your company.

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One thought on “Common Sense is Uncommon

  1. I have been trained to give talks during my education to become a scientist, but I do not remember being taught how to listen…perhaps I was not listening during those lectures! Still not too late to learn. Love your little gem of a mini-course.

    Like

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