Someone very smart once said to me that “people will only ever treat you as well as you let them.” What wise words! We all, to a very large degree, create our own ‘luck’ when dealing with other people, and wouldn’t it be handy if we could work out how to influence that more?
One of the best ways to help people treat you well is to set a powerful precedent yourself. In customer service training I often talk about the Big Three Customer Needs. They are the need to feel understood, valued and reassured.
(Actually, it isn’t just customers who need those. They are just as important to your partner, your kids, your parents, your colleagues, the landlord and the Big Issue seller).
It all sounds very simple, but it does take a little effort and practice to get right. It all starts with really, truly and properly LISTENING.
Everyone should master the art of listening well. Ours is a world where our gadgets are constantly demanding our attention and multi-tasking is the norm. Many of us genuinely struggle to give good old-fashioned conversation our undivided attention.
Ever been wound up by someone in a shop or on a telephone helpline because they aren’t listening to you properly? Perhaps they don’t acknowledge what you’ve said, or don’t seem to understand how important something is to you? Sometimes they needle you by asking you to repeat information you’ve already given them, or by getting your name wrong when you’ve previously stated it clearly. When the other person doesn’t listen to you, they are committing an act of rudeness, right?
What’s lacking is a very particular kind of listening, sometimes called ‘active’ or ‘intelligent’ listening. It’s the skill of not only hearing the bare words the other person is saying but the complete message they are sending you. That means using your eyes and your emotional intelligence as well as your ears.
Active, intelligent listening picks up on the emotional baggage surrounding the comment or enquiry. The other person’s tone of voice and choice of words, if you listen to them actively and intelligently, will tell you whether he or she is anxious, amused, annoyed, bewildered, sceptical… Active listening also helps you pick up on the un-asked questions and un-stated comments – the extra stuff they need to know but haven’t asked about, or the fuller meaning they are not directly telling you. When you ask someone if they have all the information they need, listening to HOW they say the word ‘yes’ can reveal all sorts of different levels of conviction.
Once you have picked up on these more subtle messages, you can give a response that addresses the person’s emotional needs as well as their factual, stated ones. It helps that customer, colleague or spouse feel you have really understood them, valued what they had to say and you can therefore reassure them with your reply. “Wow, that’s a sorry tale, what a frustrating time you’ve been having. What I’m going to do to sort this out is…”
Active, intelligent listening will always help you achieve better interactions, whatever the context. Helping the other person feel understood, valued and reassured will mean they are many times more likely to cooperate with you. That leads to an easier and more pleasant day for you too.
How lucky is that?