Sunday, April 6, 2008

Listen and Learn

Sometimes the best thing you can do as a business owner is to stop talking and listen. This includes listening to your clients, your staff, and, quite often, yourself.

I have found that being willing to listen to a client talk about an issue or problem goes a long way in terms of the client feeling you are a valuable member of their team. If you are able to convey that you are only interested in seeing them put their best foot forward, it is appreciated and shows your commitment to serving their interests.

As well, be sure to take time to ask your staff about their day. I make it a point to check in with my staff in terms of their workload and work experience about once a month. These are not formal sit down evaluation-style meetings, which I hold annually; these are more informal, conversational style exchanges where I don’t give feedback unless it is asked of me. I simply listen. By doing this I am able to hear when things are going as well as I perceive them, or if there are problems that I might not be aware of – problems with other members of the team, clients, or even with my management.

Sometimes, a staff member simply needs to vent their frustration about a situation, and by listening vs. giving an opinion, they will often come to their own conclusion as to how best handle things. Almost always it’s exactly how you would have advised them, but by taking the time to hear them out and draw their own conclusions instead of offering your advice right away (which might also result in a shorter conversation), can help an employee grow and learn valuable decision making skills.

A couple of years ago, my business underwent a growth period and I hired my first senior level staff member. I hardly had time to train the person and was lucky enough that they were self-motivated and able to figure things out on their own fairly quickly. I was so busy running in and out of the office, shouting orders and tasks to the rest of the staff as I ran out the door to a meeting with a client or potential client, that I completely neglected to check in with my team to see how they were doing in the midst of all the change. Turns out, they were not really doing that well, and needed me to take the time to talk to them, ask them about how things were going, and just in general, just listen. I almost lost a valuable member of my team before I realized what was happening. This is when I really learned that I had to take the time to listen.

If you have something to share about how listening has helped you in your business, please post it here.

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