Listening Skills Blog

The Comedy of Non-Verbal Errors

Since my Netflix subscription expired, I’ve resorted to watching a fair bit of YouTube. On there, I came across Community Channel, by Australian comedian Natalie Tran, who covers a relatable range of first world problems in a fashion. She’s great. I might start referring to her video The Yep System in training.

I recommend you watch it above, but here’s the gist of it: Nat gets stressed out when she’s communicating a long sequence of numbers (e.g. credit card number) to a call agent. When she pauses after each group of numbers, the agent just remains silent instead of acknowledging they’re there with a “yep.” When she encounters the silence, she doesn’t know when to continue the next set of numbers. Is the agent just slow because they have trouble with numbers? Have they been kidnapped? Is there romantic tension? Who knows!

 

Non-Verbal Responses

Words like “yep” are what Glisten Training refers to as non-verbal responses. These are a component of the key Listening Indicators we teach as the second of the 5 CLEAR Keys to communication. These listening indicators show you’re present and paying attention in the conversation, and non-verbal responses are especially crucial on the phone.

The value of non-verbal responses is well established. Customers evaluation of service is consistently improved by good non-verbal communication. You can read more about this in this article in the European Journal of Marketing.

 

Not a Waste of Time

Although people argue that saying “yep” is a waste of time, Nat points out that saying “hello” when picking up the phone is a similar situation. When the phone stops ringing, it’s safe to assume that someone has picked up. But of course she says “hello” because callers “want to know that I’m there because they can’t see me.” Similarly, “yep” indicates this during silences in the middle of the call.

This is a great explanation of why non-verbal responses are particularly important on the phone. I actually hadn’t thought of the “hello” comparison that Nat makes, but it’s a very good one. I would argue that non-verbal responses like “yep” are just as important as the greeting at the start of a call.

 

When to Use the System

The Yep System isn’t just for strings of numbers though! Any longer silence in a conversation, whether on the phone or in person, usually benefits from some sort of non-verbal response. This indicates that you’re present and paying attention.

When you’re listening to someone, usually a non-verbal response between sentences or at the end of a long phrase is appropriate. This becomes clearer with practise.

While I would argue that non-verbal responses are important in person, they are even more important on the phone. As Nat points out, she can’t see the call agent, so the “yep” is the only indicator that the agent is still there. In person, you can somewhat compensate for a lack of non-verbal responses with other listening indicators that I teach in training.

 

Yep Isn’t Ideal Though

While I do like The Yep System concept, I don’t particularly like the word “yep.” It can work with strings of numbers or other neutral information, but with anything emotive, an affirmative indicator like “yep” can be wildly inappropriate. It also seems a bit too casual for an office setting.

It’s best to stick to something like “mmhmm” or “ok”. Context, tone, timing are important, too. For example “yep” in the context of something self-deprecating could be very insulting, so your choice of non-verbal response should be appropriate. Your tone should be neutral, or appropriate for the emotional content of what you’re hearing. In terms of timing, your non-verbals should not come immediately, but rather a second or two after your speaker has completed a phrase or sentence.

Exactly how to do this correctly is hard to express in writing, so it’s best to check out my coaching or training for more details on that! Good non-verbal responses are best taught with example demonstrations and lots of practise.

 

 

Unrelated Note

On an unrelated note, I got married! My partner of 10 years and I finally tied the knot and, if you’re interested, you can see some lovely pictures on my twitter. While you’re there, follow @GlistenTraining for more tips, offers and updates.

I know I’ve been quiet both on this blog and on social media. Now that I’ve recovered from planning and travels, I should have a bit more time to write.

Boosting Your KPIs with Active Listening 2

Part 2: First Call Resolution Rates (FCR)

 

This is the second installment of my series about customer service KPIs. For part one, about Net Promoter Scores (NPS), click here.

For many companies, call centres are a key component of customer service. One crucial indicator of call centre performance is First Call Resolution Rates (FCR, also referred to as First Contact Resolution Rates). This can also apply to other modes of customer contacts, such as email.

 

Why Measure FCR?

FCR is essentially the proportion of customer service calls (or enquiries through other means) that are resolved in the first contact (obviously). More information about how FCR is calculated here.

FCR is a good indicator of how efficiently your customer service team is working, and correlates with overall customer satisfaction (CSAT, one for my next blog post!).

Customers value their time. According to a 2013 survey by Forrester Research, 77% of customers report that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do in providing good customer service. The less time they spend on the phone with you to resolve a problem, the more time they can spend enjoying your product. This makes them more likely to buy again and/or recommend you to their friends.

Also, you value your staff time. Dealing with queries in the first instance, rather than a series of calls back and forth, saves your staff time and saves you money. In his masterclass, Michael Allen (a prominent call centre consultant) explains the proven ROI on repeat reason reductions of just 20% of call volume.

 

How Does Listening Boost FCR?

It’s easiest to get it right the first time if you have the information you need. Training your customer service agents to actively listen to the customer equips them with the knowledge to ask the right questions and accurately understand the customer’s query. This will quickly increase the proportion of contacts that get resolved the first time around.

In general, good communication in the workplace, not just with customers, will help the customer service team work efficiently. If an agent has to speak to a superior about an issue, it’s important that they are able to summarise it well and ask the right questions to get the information they need.

 

Case Study: Housing Partnership

Hold on to your hats. This one is a doozy. You can skip this section if you just want to know what to do, rather than get an example of what not to do!

Last week, my oven stopped working. I contacted my landlord, which happens to be Brent Housing Partnership (BHP). I had to call them EIGHT times and they had to call me THREE times, plus the duration of each call (excluding hold time) was 10-20 minutes. It took a week and probably a couple hours of staff time to resolve the problem.

Every time I called, I was on hold for about 30 minutes. So, I got several hours of work done to the dulcet tones of BHP holding muzak. While this may have annoyed many customers, the problems only really started when I got through.

Each time I called, I had to re-explain the problem, give my address, verify my identity (lest someone wanted to report my oven issue for me!), and summarise the previous series of calls. I went through this rigmarole every time, only to be told to call back in a few hours when the agent who deals with appliances in my area was “probably” back in the office (spoiler: she never was). I’m sure I spoke to the same agent at least 3-4 times, but each time it was taken like a new call.

It was clear they had a script because they went through all this information in the same order every time. However, all they needed to know was my location and the enquiry was about an oven to establish that the relevant agent wasn’t in the office. The agents hadn’t really been taught to communicate like humans, rather they were just following a list of protocols.

This was bad enough, but it got worse. In my eighth call, I threatened to write a formal complaint, and my call was finally escalated to the manager. After being put back on hold, while I assume the agent was explaining the situation to the manager, I got through to the manager.

The staff obviously hadn’t communicated well to each other, because I had to re-explain my problem and summarise the previous series of calls again to him. Only then was I asked how long I have had the oven to establish if it was still in warranty. An active listener would have established such crucial information at a much earlier stage. The warranty had expired, so he had to investigate whether it would be a repair or replacement and he would call me back. He ended the call before I could say anything.

The manager than called me back later that day to inform me that this does indeed mean I get a new oven. He would have to arrange delivery and asked me when I would be available. This is information that he should have obtained in the previous call. No matter if it’s a delivery or replacement, I would need to be available in any case. He then had to call the delivery people to find out when they could deliver (which he could have done before calling me to save yet another two calls), and then call me again to confirm the time.

This isn’t bad enough to make me move, but my next rental property will not be with BHP. I would also advise anyone against renting with them if they can avoid it!

 

What Can I Do?

For your sake and your customers’ sake, train your customer service staff in communication and active listening! Call centre consultants have long known that active listening reliably improves FCR.

Active listening training and good staff communication could have reduced this series of ELEVEN calls to just two. The first BHP agent I spoke to should have fully established the extent of the query, then passed a message to the relevant agent communicating all the information they needed, and then the relevant agent could have called me back to arrange delivery. Instead, they wasted hours of their time and my time, and got an irate customer. Unfortunately, poor communication and listening skills often causes these sorts of problems.

So how can you avoid your agents being as inept as these guys? Better communication!

  1. Ask the Right Questions

A good start to providing efficient customer service is making sure your agents are asking the right questions. I suppose I’m also thinking of this because next week’s #CustomerCommunication challenge is about asking the right questions. Check out Twitter for more information about this! Sign up here if you want to join. (It’s ok if you’ve missed the first week!)

Ask questions that are open, relevant, and cover new ground – I call these Glistening Questions. If you’re doing the challenge, you’ll learn all about how to do this! This is one of the 5 CLEAR Keys that Glisten Training is based on. Glistening Questions often uncover information that might help explain a problem, reveal what small gesture could make a customer very happy, and generally builds rapport with customers.

In addition to knowing a good structure and format for their questions, your agents must know the crucial information they need to obtain. For example, to arrange a delivery you’ll need a time, location, and a contact number. Sounds simple, but people (e.g. BHP agents) often forget these important details! It might be a good idea to have a prioritised, categorised checklist (but not a rigid sequential script). This way your agents will remember what information they need to obtain for each variety of call you commonly receive.

 

  1. Summarise

Make sure you got it right by summarising the content of what the customer says back to them. It can be something simple like “So I understand your oven, which was provided by us, isn’t switching on even though the hobs still work fine. You’ve had it since you moved in 6 years ago, so it’s out of warranty. Is that right?” This helps establish that the full query is understood and that no crucial information is missed.

Many call centres train their staff to summarise the call at the end, but it’s important to use this as an intermediate step, too. This can actually speed up handling time and make sure no important information gets lost during the course of the call.

Summarising is a component of Reflecting, one of our 5 CLEAR Keys. Glisten Training teaches trainees how to summarise effectively, using relevant language of the customer to build rapport and understanding.

 

  1. Don’t End Prematurely

Many call centres emphasise minimising the duration of customer service calls (a.k.a. Average Handling Time, Agent Handle Time, or AHT). While it’s important to be efficient, ending a call too early might mean that the customer has to call back.

A simple question like, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” or “Is there anything else I need to know to help you?” before ending the call might be all it takes to prevent a premature ending.

 

I hope you enjoyed this post about FCR. If you want to learn more about active listening and effective communication, check out our courses!

Keep your eyes peeled for my next installment of this series, which will be all about how to improve your Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT).

Boosting Your KPIs with Active Listening 1

Part 1: Customer Satisfaction & NPS

 

I recently had drinks with an old friend who works in project management, and I was talking to him about a challenge I’m facing. I’m having trouble communicating the magnitude of value that active listening offers to managers and their teams.

I explained to him that there are many documented benefits of active listening training for professionals in the realm of academic psychology. These include increased productivity, improved relationships with colleagues and customers, increased perceptions of intelligence and trustworthiness – just to name a few! I have another blog post about this.

I asked him how I can explain to managers, concretely, how training customer service staff would help their business.

 

Quantifying Listening Impact

To me, it’s clear that training staff in active listening will result in happier customers, increased productivity and retention, and thus more money for your business. That said, I’m not in a position to quantify this yet. It would be sleazy and unfounded for me to say “Double your earnings in six months with our listening skills training!” – it might do, but that will depend on so many different factors.

You should quantify the value of active listening in terms of their KPIs” my project manager friend told me. I’m familiar with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), but which ones do I use?

My friend continued, “For example, I bet that your listening training would be great for a brand’s net promoter score. Maybe you could work out a pay for performance deal with a company that can get you some good data.

“What on earth does that mean?” I thought.

This led me down a rabbit hole online, finding information online about various KPIs used by project managers. I have since found many KPIs that will be improved with active listening. This post will be Part 1, which is specifically about KPIs that measure customer satisfaction.

Net Promoter Score (NPS)

I now know that companies’ NPS is calculated from responses on customer satisfaction surveys to a question like “How likely is that that you would recommend us to a friend?”

The score divides respondents into three groups. There are promoters, who are likely to be repeat customers and actively recommend you to others, meaning more business! Conversely, detractors are likely to criticize your business to others, thus detracting from your business. Those in between are called passives, who feel a bit indifferent. QuestionPro also summarises it in this nice graphic:

Net promoter score chart QuestionPro

In short, more promoters increase your score, and more detractors decrease it. We don’t need to go into detail of how the score itself is calculated. If you’re interested, there’s plenty of information online (e.g. Wikipedia).

 

What does Listening have to do with NPS?

In many ways, NPS is all about your customers’ expectations and values.

Each customer has a variety of expectations for your service (an expectation for speed, an expectation for quality, etc.), and will value each expectation to a differing degree. For example, one customer might have unrealistically high expectations for speed, but actually values decent quality more. This particular customer might accept that delivery takes a day more than expected, if the end product is high quality.

If you fail to meet your customers’ most valued expectations, you’ll get detractors who are disappointed with your service. However, if you go above and beyond their most valued expectations, you’ll consistently get more promoters who are continually impressed with the quality of your work.

Listening skills are crucial to customer service staff, because it’s the only way they can truly find out what your customers’ individual expectations and values are. They’re not always forthcoming about this, so you will have to listen actively. Each customer places different emphasis on aspects of your product or service.

If your customer service team is trained in active listening, they will quickly learn the exact expectations of each customer. This will tell them what is the minimum work they can do to avoid creating a detractor and exactly what small gesture could result in a new promoter.

It’s important to note that listening does not mean more work for your service staff; instead, listening makes them more productive. Rather than doing everything they can to impress a customer, the customer service agent will know exactly which action will impress each individual customer. That way, they don’t waste time going above and beyond on things that the particular customer doesn’t care about.

In short, active listening training your customer service team will increase your NPS, while probably also saving time and money!

 

Case Study: Listening Makes Promoters

I recently went to a friend’s wedding in Devon, and decided to stay at a bed and breakfast there. I was sceptical about the place because it was so cheap and it had no reviews. It turns out the place was brand new. My host, keen to get a positive review from his first customer, used his active listening skills to know exactly what he could do to impress me.

I hadn’t communicated anything to my host, other than making the booking. The day I was meant to arrive, I realised I wasn’t going to get there before 9pm. So I called ahead at and warned them that I was going to be quite late.

No problem! Thanks for letting me know,” he said “Where are you coming from?

Asking open question like this demonstrates the one of Glisten’s 5 CLEAR keys to Active Listening. He was intuitively good at active listening.

I’m driving up from London. I just got off work and I’m leaving now, so I’ll be there in about three hours.”

Sounds like a long drive just after work.” He said, simultaneously tapping into two more of the 5 CLEAR keys: Reflection and Compassion. “Will you have eaten? I could make some sandwiches ready for when you arrive.

This went above and beyond my expectations. Many people might be indifferent to having sandwiches on arrival. However, I would indeed be hungry after the long drive, having had no time for dinner. This small extra gesture really impressed me. He did indeed make some simple sandwiches for me that evening, and it was a great beginning to what became a lovely three-night stay. I genuinely recommend the Riklands Bed & Breakfast in Devon. That’s right – I am willing to promote them freely!

Intuitively using just 3 of the 5 keys to Active Listening in a brief phone call allowed him to anticipate exactly what my needs might be. This allowed him to offer fantastic customer service. Essentially, a few minutes of work by my host moved me from being a sceptic to being a promoter.

Now, imagine if the entire customer service team at your company were trained to do the equivalent with each customer. Imagine all the rave reviews!

How Much Will Listening Improve My NPS?

Just like my example above, I constantly hear recommendations from friends and family based on small gestures after they had listened to their needs as customers. It’s clear that good listening makes it easy to meet and exceed expectations, and this will increase your NPS.

Of course, I only just learned about this particular KPI measure. So, I don’t know exactly how much active listening will increase the NPS score, but I’m sure it will be significant.

I would love to get some data on this. So if you’re interested in working out a pay for performance deal, let me know! I’m sure it would be fun to see the results.

 

 

Make Your Point Better with Understanding

Phelps
Megan Phelps-Roper picketing before she left the Westboro Baptist Church.

A couple weeks ago, a new TED talk came out by Megan Phelps-Roper, a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church. In case you’re unfamiliar with this organisation, it’s a small radical group that are infamous for picketing at military funerals and celebrating national tragedies to (somehow?) show their loathing for stuff like other religions and queer people. She talks about what ultimately convinced her to leave the hateful community where she was raised.

A major turning point in her development was engaging with people that had opposing views on Twitter. Of course, she wasn’t won over by the combative people, who insulted her for having such radical opinions. Instead, her views were changed by those who made their point with compassion and willingness to understand.

 

Compassion Can Be Your Best Weapon

Genuinely compassionate people probably don’t see their skill as a weapon, but it can be. Even in fierce arguments, showing compassion diffuses the situation. It’s almost impossible to stay angry at someone who cares for you. I wrote more about how this works (and two other strategies) in a previous blog post about avoiding conflicts.

In her talk, Megan tells the story of her husband, David Abitbol (founder of the blog Jewlicious). In the beginning, they had “heated but friendly debates online.” With their growing friendship, “the line between friend and foe was being blurred.” David’s genuine compassion, curiosity, and insight planted seeds of doubt in Megan’s mind that ultimately resulted in her leaving the Westboro Baptist Church, even though she knew it would cut making-your-point-via-understandingher off from her family. Compassion was key to changing her perspective.

The first of the Glisten Training’s 5 Keys (which we use in all coaching and training) is Compassion. Showing compassion, for example by making empathetic statements, builds rapport. In her eloquent talk, Megan says “The care shown to me by these strangers on the internet was… growing evidence that people on the other side were not the daemons I had been lead to believe.”

 

Do 3 Things Before Making Your Point

In her talk, Megan explains 4 steps to having “a real conversation.” I think the first three are important to do before the fourth, which is making your argument.

These steps help with understanding and engaging people with opposing views, and they all link to listening. This will help massively in any debate or argument – even if you’re not feeling so compassionate.

  1. Don’t assume bad intent. Coincidentally, I wrote about this in my last blog post about avoiding assumptions. Meagan beautifully explains why this assumption is so damaging:

“Assuming ill motives almost immediately cuts us off from truly understanding why someone does and believes as they do. We forget they’re a human being with a lifetime of experience that shaped their mind, and we get stuck on that first wave of anger, and the conversation has a very hard time ever moving beyond it.”

 

  1. Ask Questions. This is actually another one of our 5 Keys. It is difficult to understand someone without asking questions first. It gives them the chance to speak, and shows that you’re genuinely interested in what they have to say. Focus especially on asking about their values and how they came to their conclusions. Understanding what is important to them will help you tailor your message later, so you can make your point more convincingly.

 

  1. Stay Calm. Being aggressive is counter-productive. It will only make others dislike you, and therefore less likely to listen to you in return. Megan says, “Instead of lashing out: pause, breathe, change the subject, or walk away and come back when ready.” Perhaps staying calm should be put as step 1 or 2 because, like avoiding assumptions, it’s something you should be doing throughout the whole conversation.

Only after doing these three things, should you make your argument. These three steps ensure that your conversational partner feels heard. They also make them feel like you genuinely care for them, and it makes them think that understanding your point might help them in some way.

 

Don’t Abandon Your Position

I think some people are sceptical of Glisten Training because they think we value listening to others over the other objectives that companies might have. To the contrary, we value great listening because it helps you achieve your objectives.

Especially in professions like management and sales, it’s important that you don’t abandon your objective. In management, you sometimes need to tell employees to do unpleasant tasks or perhaps you must reprimand unruly employees. In sales, you always want to convince the customer that your product is worth buying. However, before doing these things, it helps to listen to the position of your employee or customer.

Always remember that listening to people results in understanding, which will help you argue your position. Why this happens is a whole other blog post, but it does two things. First, it makes other people like and trust you. Second, it lets you know what is important to them so you can tailor your response, thus making your point more convincing.

 

In Short, My Point

This whole post can be summarised on one sentence: if you listen before making your point, they will hear your point better.

 

Executive Summary

A recent TED talk about what convinced a woman to leave the Westboro Baptist Church made some very important observations about how listening can help to transform viewpoints.

Showing compassion for others, even if their views are very different from your own, helps to diffuse arguments. Before making your point, do these three things: (1) don’t assume bad intent, (2) ask questions, (3) stay calm. These three things are linked to Glisten Training’s 5 Keys from our coaching and training.

Some people are sceptical of Glisten Training because they think we value listening to others over the other objectives that companies might have. To the contrary, great listening will help you achieve your objectives. Always remember that listening to people results in understanding, which will ultimately help you make your point.

 

The full talk (which I obviously highly recommend) can be seen below. Thanks to Megan for such a brilliant presentation, and to David for a brilliant demonstration of compassion and understanding.

How to Avoid Assumptions: Lessons from a Funny BBC Interview

You have probably seen this amusing video making rounds on the internet this week. It depicts a BBC interview, which was interrupted by the correspondent’s adorably attention-seeking children turning up in the background. A panicked woman burst into the room to round up the kids in a way that adds to the hilarity.

Many internet commenters – and media outlets – assumed that the lady was a nanny. Actually, she is the mother of the children and the wife of the correspondent. This sparked a debate about racial and gender bias, given the mother is Asian and her husband is white.

While the family happens to take this in stride (seen in a follow-up interview), other people online were very offended. The “nanny assumption” caused offence due to the racist/sexist implication that a Korean woman caring for a white man’s children could only be a nanny.

 

What Does This Have to Do with Professional Listening?

I’m not merely piggy-backing on the popularity of this funny clip to grab your attention. OK, maybe I am slightly. However, the discussion surrounding the nanny assumption is actually quite relevant for our purposes. You definitely don’t want to make a similar mistake in the workplace.

Good listeners know how to avoid making assumptions – especially in relation to sensitive topics like race and gender. We can learn two things from the nanny assumption:

  1. People have a tendency to make inferences and assumptions.
  2. Making assumptions, especially related to gender or cultural differences, can go horribly wrong and really offend some people.

Keep this in mind when talking to customers or colleagues. This post will delve further into these two points, and offer some tips about how to avoid dangerous assumptions. These tips are essential for building good working relationships.

 

Everyone Makes Assumptions.

I think it’s safe to assume (ha!) that you have a tendency to make assumptions, because it’s basic human nature. Let’s look into research about why and how this happens.

Anyone who has done undergraduate psychology will be able to tell you that our minds have a wide range of cognitive biases. Cognitive biases are mental short-cuts that we take, especially when dealing with complex information (source). This is why we, being human, make so many assumptions.

For example, you may have heard of confirmation bias, which drives people to follow news outlets that reinforce their political views, rather than news that challenges them. This can lead people to assume that their beliefs are always justified. You can see how confirmation bias might lead to more polarised views, thereby exacerbating political conflicts in a wide range of topics (from race relations to climate change). Nevertheless, it happens often because it’s easier for our brains to process information that conforms to our opinions.

Let’s go back to the BBC interview example. The nanny assumption, made mostly by white westerners, could be the result of the availability heuristic. This is another mental short-cut, which causes people to make assumptions based on the memories or experiences that are readily available to them. It’s possible that in their limited experience, they have seen more Asian female nannies than interracial families. Thus, they leaped to the wrong conclusion that she was a nanny.

 

Miss, Mrs, Ms, or… Prof?

If the relevance of all this to business is still unclear, consider how you address new customers, clients, or colleagues in your correspondences. Have you ever assumed the gender or standing of a person, leading you to use the wrong title? It makes a bad first impression.

Titles are tricky. I’ve always been very aware of this pitfall because of my parents. They were a husband and wife research team that led a lab together. My mother kept her name after they married. My mother’s and father’s proper titles are Prof Florentine and Prof Buus respectively. (Yes, I was given my mother’s surname. My father’s surname, Buus, is my middle name.) Probably much to her frustration, they frequently got letters incorrectly addressed to Prof & Mrs Buus. People often assumed that my mother wasn’t also a professor and that she must have taken her husband’s name.

Story time! It wasn’t always my mother’s name that got mangled in these misunderstandings. Somewhere along the line, my parents were listed on a marketing mailing list as Prof & Mrs Buus. My father’s Danish first name (Søren) isn’t easy to spell, nor is it clearly a male name in English. As a result, my father was sent a Victoria Secret catalogue addressed to “Mrs Sørenne Buus.” He was probably not intended target audience for the women’s underwear campaign, and (as far as I know) nobody in our household bought anything from the catalogue. At least we now have a funny anecdote to tell at family gatherings.

In short, don’t assume you know the appropriate title to use. So, ask yourself – are you referring to someone correctly?

 

Don’t Assume the Worst.

We all make assumptions. Yet, when people jump to conclusions, we often think they are malicious or ignorant – even if they actually mean no harm. This is why assumptions can be so destructive in professional relationships.

Even though someone may make an assumption based on stereotypes, they may not mean to discriminate or offend. When talking to the New York Times about gender bias, Professor Susan Fiske at Princeton says “It’s a mistake to assume that gender bias is only or mainly about misogynists. Much gender bias is more automatic, ambiguous and ambivalent than people assume.”

Yup, I’m also telling you to not make assumptions about the intentions of others who make assumptions. While you should avoid showing your biases, don’t assume the worst if your colleagues slip up. We would all get along much better if we consider that people usually mean well.

 

What Would a Glistener Do?

A Glistener (i.e. a great listener – hence our company name!) knows the danger of making assumptions in conversations. Of course, we all will make some assumptions anyway, but we should try our best not let them show. If you get it wrong, showing your assumptions can alienate your customers or colleagues.

Our individual coaching and group training courses teach how to avoid assumptions creeping into your speech using 5 Keys. Reflection is one of our 5 Keys, which is about the listener matching the body language, tone, and vocabulary of the speaker.

Reflecting vocabulary is actually a great tool for preventing assumptions from creeping into your conversation. When someone uses a word to describe something, try to use the same word to refer to that thing. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you parrot back exactly what you hear. That would sound robotic or even pejorative. Instead, you should focus on reflecting their vocabulary when it comes to key words.

 

What are “Key” Words?

When deciding which key words to reflect, pay special attention to emotionally laden or culturally-dependent words. This is helpful in both personal and professional conversations.

Another story time! When I was fresh out of university, I once ruined a pitch at a for-profit school. The administration referred to the school’s “students” as “customers” (I know – right?!). Despite this, I naively assumed that it was more important to emphasise academic ideals, rather than financial incentives. For this reason, I stubbornly continued to use the word “students” and not “customers.” By doing that, I was showing my lack of experience in the for-profit sector – at least in the eyes of these school administrators. Because I didn’t reflect the right vocabulary, my professional relationship with the school was over before it started.

Consider the terminology used in your sector. Which terms vary according to industry or company culture? Make sure to reflect those key words to make better first impressions and build good rapport.

Reflect in Writing, Too.

Great listening is also important in written correspondences. You can use reflection as a tool in your writing, just like you would use it in a conversation. Check your letters and email replies to make sure you’re using appropriate vocabulary for key words.

For example, are you using the right title when addressing your recipient in an email? Unless your company policy says otherwise, it’s usually a good idea address the recipient in the same way that they signed off in their last email. This way, you avoid being too formal or overfamiliar.

What if you’re writing the first email to a new potential client? If you don’t know the rank of title to use, it’s safest to overshoot rather than undershoot. For example, use Prof rather than Dr when writing to academics. Nowadays, a quick Google search can usually help you get the right title. Failing this, you could simply use the recipient’s full name without a title until they tell you otherwise.

 

Conclusion

You will inevitably make assumptions, but try not to. Reflect instead. This will help you make a better impression and build a better rapport with anyone.

For more about Reflection and the rest of the 5 Keys, check out our individual coaching and group training courses. You can also get a free guide by subscribing to our Glistener mailing list.

 

 

Executive Summary

Everyone makes assumptions, even me and you. Unfortunately, making assumptions can cause serious offence, as it did when people assumed an Asian woman in a viral video was a nanny.

In business, you can give a very bad first impression with incorrect assumptions. For example, you might assume the wrong title of a new colleague or customer. In general, address people as they have introduced themselves, or as they have signed off in written correspondences. Sometimes a quick Google search can help you, too.

Assumptions can also emphasise a clash in company culture. Our training course teaches Glisteners (i.e. great listeners) to avoid assumptions, especially by careful use of language. One of our 5 Keys to Listening is Reflection, which means appropriately matching the body language, tone, and vocabulary of the speaker.

By reflecting the vocabulary of your conversational partner, especially for emotive and culturally-specific terms, you will avoid assumptions creeping into what you say. Consider what words in your sector vary according to industry or company culture. Make sure to reflect those key words in your professional conversations.

Reflection will help you avoid assumptions, making a better impression and building a better rapport with anyone. This is key to good customer service and any professional collaboration.

 

Administrative Note

If you’re a regular reader, you may have noticed I haven’t posted for a while. I’ve been a bit busy, and (to be honest) lacking inspiration for the blog. Instead of subjecting you to forced posts, I’m ditching the weekly schedule. I will now only be posting when I have something new that’s worthwhile writing about.

Make sure to follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our Glistener mailing list to be notified about new blog posts, and other exciting things.

 

 

3 Wise Tips for Avoiding Christmas Conflicts

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, which I will be spending with my American mother. To me, Thanksgiving is really the start of the holiday season. I’m looking forward to lots of tasty food and quality time with loved ones.

Sometimes spending time with family, as loved as they are, can be tricky. Perhaps Dad is once again bringing up some rather divisive political opinions, or maybe Grandma is asking for the 20th time when the eldest grandkid is going to get married. There is certainly no shortage of advice online about how to survive the holidays with family. But it’s not just about surviving!

I bring you 3 wise tips (like the 3 wise men – geddit?) for not just avoiding the Christmas conflicts, but also making the most of your family time, using… you guessed it: listening.

 

1. Be compassionate.

The first of my 5 Keys to professional listening is compassion – and of course it’s not just for the office. Take an empathetic approach, trying to assume the best in others. (Sidenote: you can get a Free Guide to all 5 Keys by joining our Glistener subscribers, including how to show compassion.)

Consider the aforementioned Dad with his objectionable political opinions. Instead of letting his views make your blood boil, try to take his perspective for a moment. He has likely had unique experiences that has lead him to different conclusions than you. Could it be that he is simply a product of his time?

Likewise, think about why Grandma is pressuring the grandchildren. What if you put yourself in her shoes? Perhaps she is just eager to have more young ones in the family and views marriage as a step in that direction, or maybe she simply wants them to find love and be happy.

Taking an empathetic approach will help you be more forgiving when loved ones are being difficult, allowing you to truly listen without being defensive. It will also help you find common ground to talk about, which brings us to the second tip.

 

2. Ask open questions.

Keep the conversation moving along and really connect with your family with open questions. These are questions starting with words like “what” “why” or “how” that pick up on what has been said. Truly open questions don’t direct the speaker or aim get a specific answer (i.e. avoid “Why can’t you see I’m right?!”). Instead, good open questions bring more depth and clarity to the conversation.

You could try to thoughtfully exploring where Dad’s views come from. Imagine you’re a political scientist trying to figure out why so many people voted for Trump. Ask him open questions – not with the view to change his opinion, but rather to genuinely understand where he might be coming from. Likewise, you could ask Grandma about marriage; how did she meet Granddad, or what was her wedding like?

Failing that, you can always change the subject with an open question about a new topic. There is always the classic “Mom, this turkey is delicious. How did you make it?” However, try to think of more resourceful questions that might bring you closer to your family. You could ask your older relatives about their younger days, or ask your younger relatives about their latest achievement.

Try brainstorming a list of good open questions for your family before heading home for the holidays. You could even steal some from the bestselling Book of Questions. This way, you might even learn something new about those you love while you’re avoiding tricky subjects.

 

3. Share the gift of listening.

Genuine connection requires active listening to go both ways. You can use active listening to avoid conflict and build your understanding. However, in personal relationships, it’s important that you feel heard, too.

You can lead by example. Tell your loved ones about active listening and how it’s changed your life. Show your siblings how you have used your skills to avoid arguments with Dad and diffuse awkward questions from Grandma. Try introducing them to some of our listening game ideas from Twitter. Have fun with it!

And (shameless plug) you could even literally give the gift of listening by buying gift coaching sessions. It might be the perfect Christmas present for someone you know. They could use their new skills with you, and it might help them make great leaps professionally!

Find out more about coaching here, or email me at info@glistentraining.co.uk to book a coaching session.

 

Happy Holidays!

The Golden Rule

It’s going to be a very short post this week, as I’m on break for half term. 

The Golden Rule came up in conversation, and it had me thinking about how it applies to listening. Instead of reading my writings this week, you could write a bit of your own. I have a little task for you. 

Try brainstorming at least 10 indicators that someone is listening to you with positive interest. What do you find to be the most powerful of those? Are you showing these indicators to others? 

You might be surprised to find that you forget to do these things in conversation, even if you value it when others do. If that’s the case, try using this exercise to be more self-aware in your interactions this week.

Let us know how you get on via Twitter with #ListenBetter. Follow @GlistenTraining and me @jflorentine

See you next week!

The Success of Netflix Agents Like K-dawg

It is no secret that I am a fan of Netflix. House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Breaking Bad, Stranger Things, and now the new Haters Back Off are some of my favourite shows.

When browsing the news to see what current events I could write about, I was delighted to see Netflix on the front page of the BBC news website for their recent success on Wall Street (partly because I could describe my streaming series as “blog research”). Netflix shares just jumped by a fifth, after they reported getting 50% more subscribers than they projected in the last quarter.

Certainly a lot goes into their success, including effective marketing and investment in licencing good content, but I would argue that their stellar listening to customers is also a major driving force.

 

Meta-Listening

One clear way Netflix listens to customers is through their extensive analytics, which is essentially meta-listening. Like most big internet companies, Netflix carefully tracks their subscribers and what they like to watch, “listening” to their preferences. This helps them determine what shows will be most appealing to keep their customers watching, and appeal to new potential subscribers.

This is certainly one effective way of listening to customers, but I won’t go into this in detail. I am a bit of a data nerd, but that’s not what I teach at Glisten Training. What really interests me is the listening they demonstrate in their one-to-one customer service.

 

“We’re here”

I tend to find that companies with good customer service are handsomely rewarded, and Netflix is no exception. I interviewed a kind customer service agent on their live chat (thank you, Charlie!), who told me a bit about their ethos and training they receive. Crucially, he tells me they are taught to show “we’re here” and “not treat you like a number but an individual.”

This is basically what active listening is all about, and it results in fantastic customer service. The customer feels heard and appreciated, and will continue to be a loyal customer. This service ethos is ingrained in their culture – so much so that their CEO and Founder would regularly take customer service calls himself.

 

Agent K-dawg

When I searched online to find examples of Netflix customer service, I found this little YouTube gem where subscriber contacts Netflix about his account. He enjoys “talking gangsta” to customer service agents – probably to see their reactions and post them as entertaining videos. The agent, nicknamed “K-dawg” by the customer, responds fantastically.

In the customer service chat, she matches his language and tone, thus creating excellent rapport. Among many amusing responses she calls him, on his suggestion, “Duke of Z-dom,” discusses “DAT MATH THOUGH” when upselling him a DVD plan, and manages appropriately placed “pssssshhhh.” That last one is a creative non-verbal response if I’ve ever seen one.

 

Reflect, Reflect, Reflect

The case of the Duke of Z-dom is a slightly odd example, but it does truly illustrate the lengths a Netflix employee will go to reflect the language of her customers. “Reflecting” is final of Glisten’s 5 Keys to CLEAR listening. We train professionals to how do this with the same language and tone as the speaker, matching body language (check out my previous post on mirroring), and using summarising sentences.

So, if you want your customer service employees to be as masterful as “K-dawg” of Netflix at reflecting and other skills, check out our active listening skills training packages. Netflix shows us once again that great listening gives great service, which results in great growth.

Oh and jukmifgguggh and ewrftghybgfvdcsx. Thanks, Reddit! 

10 Things I Learned in 10 Years at Nightline

It’s just about my 10 year volunteering anniversary for Nightline, a student support helpline. A decade at Nightline has shaped my career. It has also given me most of the expertise I use to train professionals in listening skills today.

In true internet listicle style, here are 10 things I learned in 10 years at Nightline. I will, however, spare you the BuzzFeed-esque gifs. Some of these are about listening skills and others are more about personal development, but I hope you find them all useful.

1. Listening is a skill, not a natural ability.

In 10 years, I don’t think I’ve ever seen any new volunteer come in already knowing how to listen, unless they’ve done some kind of training already. Listening skills are uncommon.

Listening is something we do every day, but we’re rarely taught the skills to do it properly (It takes training and practice to craft good questions, show that you’re listening, reflect on what has been said, and refrain from passing judgement. Plug: check out our courses for that.

2. Open questions are far better than closed questions.

Speaking of crafting good questions, the first step to a good question is making it open. Open questions usually start with words like “why” and “how.” Crucially, they require more than a one-word answer, allowing the speaker to expand on what has been said.

Closed questions can completely shut down a conversation, both on helplines and in a professional context. All helpline volunteers know the panic of thinking what on earth to say when a caller simply says “no” in response to an accidentally asked yes/no question. Don’t get yourself in that situation. Keep your questions open.

3. Silences need not be uncomfortable – they can be a great tool.

As a new volunteer, I often panicked when there were silences in my Nightline calls. I thought that my job was to keep the conversation going, and I would rush to say the first question that came to mind that came to my head, no matter how terrible it was. With practice, I learned to get comfortable with silences and use them to think of a better response to what the speaker just said.

On calls, and in life, leaving comfortable silences has made me sound more confident and intelligent. Silences are also a powerful tool in negotiations and other difficult conversations, but that will have to be another blog post someday. It’s something I teach in the mastery course, too.

4. Non-verbals are surprisingly useful.

I never knew the breadth of meaning and the endless available variations of “mmhmm” before Nightline. Such non-verbal responses are particularly useful in phone conversations, where you don’t want to interrupt the speaker but still show they have your attention. Without them, a caller might feel like they’re talking to a dead line. I now use them all the time, even in face-to-face conversations.

Last Saturday, we challenged our Twitter followers to see how long they could carry on a conversation using only non-verbal responses. My personal record is well over 20 minutes.

5. Often, listening is more powerful than giving advice.

The best calls at Nightline were those where the caller, given a chance to talk out their problem, found their own solution. At Nightline, we don’t give advice. This is partly because our volunteers aren’t experts or qualified professionals, but also because it’s empowering for the caller to make their own decisions.

Again, in the mastery course, I teach how to do something I call “nonvice.” This is essentially using your listening skills to allow the speaker to create their own advice. Not only does it make you seem like a master problem solver with little effort, it’s also useful in a number of tricky situations.

6. Teaching is genuinely one of the most rewarding things.

I signed up to Nightline because I thought supporting others would be rewarding. I soon found out that what I found rewarding wasn’t the direct supporting of callers; it was the training.

In my first three months at Oxford Nightline, I was co-opted into training new helpline volunteers. I loved scrutinising the terrible practice calls at the beginning, watching the figurative lightbulbs switch on above trainees’ heads when I explained something, and seeing the vast improvement of most trainees by the last training day. Within six months, I was appointed on committee as Training Officer for two terms. During training season, I sometimes spent 40 hours per week volunteering.

I would estimate that, throughout my Nightline career, I have trained a couple hundred volunteers and I never tired of it. That’s how I knew I wanted teaching to be part of my career.

7. Impostor syndrome is more common than you think.

Being confided in by strangers is truly a privileged position, and it teaches you a lot about common human experience. For three years, I took calls from fellow Oxonians, and what struck me most was the ubiquity of impostor syndrome among high-achieving students.

At what was recently listed as the best university in the world, one of our most common type of callers were students who felt like they didn’t deserved to be there. However, I’m sure that most of them did, at least as much as anyone else. In life, I find this strangely encouraging.

8. There are many different ways to listen, and that’s ok.

When I left Oxford for University College London (UCL) to do graduate study, the first thing I did was sign up for Nightline volunteering in London. Each branch of Nightline runs independently, having their own policies and training. I had to re-train as a London Nightline volunteer and I was shocked at how different their listening style was.

The Oxford style was fairly strict and purist, consisting mostly of questions. The London style was more loose and complex, intermingling questions with reflective sentences and something they called “truisms” (more on this in a future blog post). I was further surprised to see that the London method worked just as well as the Oxford one on the lines, and I now use elements of both in my coaching.

9. You probably can (and should) delegate more than you think.

I was eventually offered the full-time role of London Nightline coordinator, effectively the director and only full-time employee of an independently registered charity supporting half a million students. I was so excited and had so many ideas, but I had no real experience running an organisation at that point. I was not expecting the huge amount of work it was just to keep the charity ticking over, let alone achieve the developments I had planned. It did not come naturally, but I had to learn to delegate.

I would not have been able to achieve anything there without the support of the volunteers – especially the committee members who helped things run so smoothly. I was continually amazed how much others were willing to help, and how much more could be achieved with a group effort.

10. Helpline training is not just for helplines.

Although I can no longer volunteer on the helpline and now only work with the Nightline Association in an advisory capacity, I still use my helpline listening skills daily. I use them with my friends and when I meet new people (hint: people like you much more when you actively listen to them). I use them at work (even before Glisten Training) on the phone with clients, in meetings with colleagues, and when talking with superiors. Most of my Nightline friends tell me they do the same, and one actually landed a job when he simply “nightlined” his prospective boss in an interview.

Ultimately, this broad applicability of helpline skills is what gave me the idea to start Glisten Training. In essence, I teach the listening skills that I learned from helplines, boiled down and tailored to a professional context, potentially saving you years of overnight helpline shift experience.

That said, if helpline volunteering is something you would like to do (and I highly recommend it!), but you are no longer a student, check out Samaritans. It’s a similar charity I have also enjoyed volunteering for, and you need not be a student to do it. If you are lucky enough to still be studying, find your local nightline and see if they’re recruiting.