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Listening Lapses: 3 Mistakes We All Make (and How to Avoid Them)

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by: Todd McCormick (@TMcCormick2011)
23 May 2014

"The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer."
— Philosopher Henry David Thoreau

"There's a big difference between showing interest and really taking interest."
Author Michael P. Nichols, “The Lost Art of Listening”

Listening isn’t rocket science, but it can be challenging in this world of constant distractions. Between email, social media, smartphones, and our own multitasking minds, it’s easy to get sidetracked and accidentally miss something important — even when we think (or someone else thinks) we’re listening.

For example, just the other day, a colleague was giving me feedback on my 2014 blog series on listening. But when an important email from IBM popped up in my inbox, I opened it and started reading. Without meaning to, I completely tuned her out … until she asked me a question. Of course, not having heard what she asked, I had no clue how to answer.

That’s the thing about not fully listening. Not only is it rude and frustrating for the other person, but if you don’t know what was said, you don’t know how to respond.

Thankfully, I have a good relationship with this colleague, so we laughed it off. But in another context — such as a conversation with a client or my boss — the story might not have ended well.

All sales and marketing leaders are guilty of not listening at times, but when it happens, we need to know how to recover. Here are three common mistakes I see often right now:

Mistake #1: Thinking you can listen and do anything else at the same time.

Even a three-second distraction makes us forget what we’re doing (or hearing) and lose the information before it gets committed to long-term memory, according to research from the University of Michigan.

Three seconds! That’s all it takes to derail a conversation.

It’s even easier to ignore the voices of online buyers, who don’t have the luxury of asking, “Did you hear what I just said?” This is why we need tools in place that help us collect the data digital shoppers provide across different channels and integrate it all in one place, giving us a clear understanding of who they are and what they want.

Resources for Helping Avoid This Mistake:

Mistake #2: Pretending you’re listening when you’re not.

If I hadn’t owned up to my listening lapse with the colleague I asked for feedback, I wouldn’t have known how to respond … which probably would have given me away anyway.

Marketing leaders do this sometimes with customers, especially the online ones. We ask them to take surveys, give feedback and share ideas. Then, because we don’t have the right tools to properly use that information, we do nothing with it.

For example, let’s say that for years I’ve been buying Alabama football memorabilia from the same online sporting goods store. Then the retailer sends me an email promoting Auburn T-shirts. Yikes! As a BAMA fan, that listening lapse would be almost unforgivable.

Resources for Helping Avoid This Mistake:

Mistake #3: Not responding.

Listening is how we show people that we genuinely care what they have to say. So when we fail to respond, we’re sending the message that we don’t care — which is a sure-fire way to lose customers.

But all is not lost. Everyone knows that people (and companies) make mistakes. Your customers will forgive you when you take responsibility and make it up to them. How are you planning for this?

For example, let’s say the online retailer that offended me by promoting my team’s rival sent me an email with a link to download a “Guide to Planning the Ultimate Alabama Football Viewing Party,” along with a discount for purchasing related BAMA gear. I would know they’ve changed their ways and are now listening. And I’d probably give them another chance.

Resources for Helping Avoid This Mistake:

Speaking of important relationships, I’d love to hear from you: What’s the worst automated response you’ve ever gotten? Tweet me at @TMcCormick2011.




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