Transform Your Business by Listening in 4 Easy Steps

Listen- blog post

In English, like some other languages, we write our words phonetically: that means we place letters beside other letters, each having their own “sound”. The combination of these sounds forms words.

The Chinese writing system is different. Instead of constructing words by combining “sounds”, they build words by combining symbols, or characters. Each character represents an entire word.

There is an amazing business lesson to be learned by breaking down the Chinese word “To Listen” into its four individual symbols: 

Use active listening in business communications

EARS: This is the most obvious aspect of listening, but it is the least important part of truly hearing.

The Finance Leadership Development program, at Johnson & Johnson, taught us an amazing lesson about active listening. They explained that researchers measured heart rate, perspiration, respiration and other biometrics of people digging a ditch. They also measured the same biometrics for people engaged in active listening.

They found that active listening has a similar effect on our bodies as digging a ditch!

That’s why we feel “wiped out” after a day of meetings, or conferences; it feels as if we have been digging a ditch for eight hours.

Active listening is hard, and takes effort. This Chinese symbol reminds us that there is more to active listening than simply lending an ear.

Active listening with our eyes

EYES: Most of us can recall moments when our parents said, “look at me when I’m talking to you.” As an adolescent we responded defiantly, saying, “I am listening”, while our eyes remained elsewhere. Now that we are parents we understand this better: when they are not looking, they are not listening.

Though it’s common to think that we listen with our ears, eye contact is one of the key indicators people look for when determining that someone is listening.

Yet, consider how many meetings we participate in (one-on-one, or in groups), where eye contact is not established. Often eyes are glued to laptop screens, tablets, presentations, charts, handouts, etc. Listening with our eyes is not always about establishing eye contact; if someone is using a chart, video, or other visual aid, it is easy to gauge how well the group is listening by how much they are visually engaged with what they are showing.

Business application: Our eyes indicate where our thoughts are. It’s one of the easiest ways we can pay respect to the person talking, and one of the fastest ways the speaker gains confidence and feels that connections are being made.

Active listening leads to business creativity

HEART: You’ve seen this before; in fact, most of us have even done this. Someone is talking, and then they say, “you’re not listening to me.” You quickly shoot back the last sentence they just said.

Ha! You just showed them that you were listening, right?

No. You showed them you “heard” them with your ears, but not with your heart.

The ability to regurgitate the last sentence is not “listening”. The Chinese word “to listen” challenges us to listen more deeply. When we “listen with our heart” our faces react differently to the words we hear. So much of our communication is non-verbal, so when someone is talking, and we are listening with our heart, it is reflected on our faces in the form of nearly imperceivable expressions. A tiny squint, a wrinkle around the lips, a slight change in the brow… these are micro-reactions in our face that result from truly listening with our heart.

Business application: The key to unlocking employee retention and amazing creativity is through active listening.

Employees don’t commit to an organization because management adopts all of their ideas. They are loyal to the organization because they feel their supervisors listen to them.

Though there’s a chance that nothing will be done about what was said, there is intense satisfaction that results from just being listened to.

Employees will endure difficult corporate struggles if they simply feel that their voice is heard.

Active Listening in business communications

UNDIVIDED ATTENTION: In our fast-paced, digital age, we often pride ourselves in multitasking. In fact, it’s one of the top bullet points on most resumes today. Here’s the sad reality:

1. Studies show people are not as productive while multitasking as they often think.

2. When it comes to feeling heard, no one wants to talk to a “multitasker”

Today, there is a value that is gaining more importance than multitasking: Focus.

While we all have multiple clients, projects, tasks, deliverables, duties, and more, the ability to focus intensely on one point at a time, even if only for a short time, is incredibly valuable.

We have no shortage of details swarming our lives that are screaming for our attention. While they all need to be addressed, pressing “pause” on most of them, so we can focus intensely on one of them, is the key to doing amazing work.

Business application: Do you “listen” while writing emails, sending a text, or updating something on the computer? While you may truly believe that you are listening, it’s likely that the person that is talking firmly feels that you are not.

While committing to active listening can have a truly transformational effect on your business, I will add that it can have an even bigger one on our families and friends.

Best wishes on this endeavor!

Reposted from VCI SF blog written by Everett Bowes. Everett Bowes is Creative Director for Visual Creatives and the Director of VCI SF, the Story Focus of Visual Creatives. Using our BrandStory process, VCI SF helps companies clarify their brand story and increase customer loyalty. 

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