A Better Way to Listen

Several years ago, I taught a college course on communication.  The unique thing about this particular course was that only half the content was focused on speaking.  The other half taught listening.  It’s not a skill that is commonly taught, but it should be.  There are so many things we can gain when we actually listen for the purpose of learning.  This is not always easy to do, especially when you’re feeling defensive.

The “listening to learn” approach can be applied in a variety of situations and pay off handsomely. Next time one of your customers is speaking to you about a problem he had with a delivery, a driver, or someone in your billing department, don’t immediately start thinking about your response while he is venting.

Instead, try listening intently. Is he talking about an isolated incident, or is what he is telling you indicative of a systemic problem within your organization? His complaint can give you insights into your operation that can have ramifications far deeper than just resolving his particular problem.

You can apply this same “listening to learn” skill with your drivers. Make sure when a driver voices a complaint that you don’t just tune him out because you’ve heard similar complaints before. I don’t have to tell you how bad the driver shortage is so there is a great deal to be gained by taking a different approach to communicating with your drivers.

Happy drivers — those who feel they are a valued part of the organization — are not only more likely to stay with you but can be your best “word-of-mouth” advertising for new recruits. By “listening to learn” from your drivers, you can root out problems and make adjustments in the way people in your organization interact with them. So when your current drivers are talking to other drivers — and they do talk shop with other drivers — they will paint a picture of your fleet as a great place to work. Nothing more convincing than a third-party testimonial!

“Listening to learn” can be easily mastered but it will take some retraining. Next time someone is speaking to you, try to be mindful of how you are reacting. If you find yourself thinking about exactly how you will respond, stop. Instead, just listen and absorb what the person is saying to you. And there is nothing wrong with taking a few moments after they finish speaking to formulate your response to the issue at hand.

The benefits of this new way of listening are worth the restraint.  Think of the wealth of free, unfiltered information you’ll be exposed to — no consultant needed! You’ll gather information you can use to help attract and retain valuable employees that will translate into improved service for your customers. “Quiet” time well spent!

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