Powerful Communication Tools for Entrepreneurs: Active Listening
By Joanne Bond
Do you consider yourself a good listener? While listening may seem easy, active listening takes focus and practice. Listening is a particularly important communication tool for entrepreneurs who are continuously seeking information and support for their business ideas. Active listening allows you to hear what is really said as you navigate your path toward success. Joanne Bond, executive leadership coach, lends her expertise on the subject with a few suggestions to help entrepreneurs hone their skill in active listening.
- Active listening begins with self-listening. Start by listening to yourself. This allows you to listen and evaluate what others want and need in relation to your business ideas. Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of listening through a filter of what they want to hear. When you listen this way, you can miss the full message. By remaining open to what is said, rather than to what you want to hear, you strengthen your active listening. And you may be surprised at what you hear that can help you improve upon your own ideas!
- Active listening is deliberate. Active listening takes focus and practice. You must train your attention to stay in the moment, stay with the dialogue, and listen deliberately. Deliberate listening is patient and generous. If your mind races ahead and starts planning what to say next, you are no longer listening. To re-engage, focus on listening and show that you are tracking the speaker’s comments by making eye contact or nodding your head. Limit other distractions and multi-tasking. Focus on listening.
- Active listening is open. Active listening requires an open mind. Often in conversation we make decisions and judgements about what we are hearing, and we think about how we will respond to what is being said. When we stay present with the dialogue, we suspend judgement and allow our minds to stay curious and open to possibilities. This is essential for entrepreneurs - to stay open and curious.
- Active listening is empathic. Empathic listening is remaining curious about the other person’s perspective. What are the experiences, context, and emotions that contribute to his or her point of view? Often, this is the “why” behind what someone is saying. Empathic listening involves tuning in to both the verbal and non-verbal cues to understand the meaning behind the words and to gain insight into how someone is feeling.
- Active listening enables accuracy and validation. Active listening involves confirming what you have heard to assure understanding and appreciation of others’ viewpoints. When people feel that you have heard their perspectives, they are more likely to listen to you. Summarize what you’ve heard by recapping, “Let me see if I understand what you are saying...” Then, use open-ended questions to clarify or define any points before moving forward. Some examples include, “What did you mean by X?” or “How would you like to see that problem solved?” Next, validate the other person’s perspective. You can validate a point of view without saying it is right, or that you agree. For example, you might say, “I can see how you would have that concern, and here is how I see it.”
Through active listening entrepreneurs can truly understand what their customers want and need, rather than hearing only what supports their own ideas. They remain open and curious to the possibilities their ideas may inspire in others. They build lasting relationships with people who feel understood and validated. Starting a business can be a bumpy road, but active listening can help entrepreneurs navigate the path toward success.