One of the key lessons for me when it came to designing best-practice communication strategies in 2016 was to listen more and talk less.
Amid the cacophony of communications today, that’s not easy to do.
To stand-out from the crowd, we can make the mistake of trying to be louder or more loquacious than whoever is near us.
However, in seeking to better serve clients, markets or audiences our focus must be pointed laser-like at what concerns them - what really concerns them.
That means zipping it and turning on the satellite dishes on either side of our head. If you do that, our experience is that results will follow.
Here’s five reasons why:
1. You might think you know the answer, but you probably don’t.
I’m writing a book. Strangely enough for a communications consultant, it’s about communications. The central theme turns on how best to help companies set up sustainable public relation operations. Even before writing a paragraph, it’s been vital to establish my target market’s key problem. I thought I knew. But it has been enlightening asking existing clients and others what actually keeps them awake at night.
2. You’ll discover the power of connection
In one of those discovery discussions for my book, I spent considerable time with one media owner drilling down on their problem. I’m not sure I had any immediate solution for them, but I sure gained a new appreciation of what they were trying to resolve. All from asking. “Why do you keep asking me what my problem is?” he said, unaccustomed to such interest. The net result? We are a conversation closer to a solution and have a deeper relationship.
3. You’ll save yourself and others time
Most of us have been guilty of it - we proceed on a particular route, confident we are meeting the needs of our clients only to learn down the track we have different ideas about the journey, or worse, the destination. I’ve been guilty of needlessly creating a lot of process, which satisfies my way of working but which is lost on the client solely interested in what’s burning them. Holding an open dialogue where the client has most of the air time to explain their needs means we can cut to the chase and map the road to success.
It seems counterintuitive to ask more and listen harder. But you may find it the best business practice you introduce.
4. If you’re too busy talking, you’ll miss the real story
Over 30 years, I’ve worked with hundreds of journalists. Invariably, I’ve found the best human interest stories are those told by the great listeners - unassuming journalists who skillfully guide their interview subjects through a conversation. They ask. They cajole. They probe. Mainly they listen - and we all learn more.
5. Active listening is polite - and way more fun
When you’re passionate about what you do or think you have a solution for someone it’s hard to hold back the enthusiasm. It pays, though, to check in that everyone is engaged in the conversation. How often have you walked away having had an earful from someone? How did you feel about that? In business, particularly in some cultures, that spells death.
In this age of information, with so many voices competing for attention, it seems counterintuitive to ask more and listen harder. But if you’re not doing it already, you may find it the best business practice you introduce in 2017.
Now, what was your problem?
Is superb communications critical to your business? What’s the central, burning question you’re trying to resolve? We’d love to know. Take our ONE-QUESTION survey. And don’t say we didn’t ask.
* Stuart Howie is the Director of Flame Tree Media.
Stuart Howie is a Canberra-based communications consultant. He has worked with organisations, private and public, in Australia and New Zealand, helping them to discover, shape and tell their stories. He is the author of The DIY Newsroom, which won Social Media Book of the Year at the Australian Business Book Awards. Stuart has worked in media, publishing and communications for more than 30 years as an executive, editor and strategist.