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Research Triangle Business Advisors
August 2012 Newsletter

A few months ago I wrote a newsletter on the topic of listening skills.  Now some recent conversations with clients have led me to think it’s time for an article on making sure people are listening to you.

Sometimes people are not listening because they can’t follow your message or sometimes they are just bored listening to you and tune-out.  A special case of that second one is how you describe what you do or what business you are in.

Let’s take a look at what you can do to improve your chances of being heard.

Bob De Contreras





Making Sure You Are Heard

  1. The most common cause I see for executives and managers being misunderstood is that they don’t clearly explain their point or the action they want the listener to take. We have all been there.  We are under time pressure and cut the conversation short or we mistakenly assume the listener knows information that we do, and we don’t tell them.  The results are the same. The speaker thinks the listener was not listening, when in fact the speaker did not do a good job of explaining.

  2. Another issue that I see often is when the speaker has several related points to make and forgets to cover one or two.  It’s just a simple memory loss mistake or result of rushing again because of time pressures.  In this case I think our ego sometimes gets in the way.  We should be making notes for the conversation, but don’t want to look like we need the crutch.

  3. My favorite situation is the person who thinks they are so busy they can’t “stop” to have the conversation.  This person is rushing down the hallway shouting out instructions to the listener over their shoulder and actually believes the listener heard everything said. By the way – there is no opportunity for the listener to confirm understanding through feedback.

  4. In some cases there is a learning style or communication style disconnect.  Adults (over the age of 12) learn in one of three ways – listening, seeing, or kinesthetically (feeling).  Here’s the problem.  If you are talking to someone who is a seeing learner, they can’t hear you.  You literally need to draw them pictures so they can SEE what you are talking about.  If you are a seeing learning and you are presenting pictures to a listening learner, they can’t HEAR you.  Kinesthetic can mean feeling in one of two ways – emotional feeling or tactile feeling (like pencil to paper).  Everyone has a primary and a secondary learning style. E.g., I learn 80% through hearing and 20% through seeing.

    1. The fix for situations 1-3 above is simple, but also hard for the speaker to accept and change. If you want to be heard, you need to plan your conversations.  It’s like email composition.  You write the email then press send.  You re-read it after pressing send and see three typos.  If you had re-read it before pressing send you would have had an email that the reader could understand.  Let’s call this compose/re-read cycle the same as planning the conversation.  At a minimum talk yourself through the conversation in your head before speaking.  You will recompose because you will find things you realize you need to change in what you initially said in your head.  The best approach is to write down a bulleted outline of the conversation.  The result is the same as thinking through the conversation, but it also has the advantage of helping you prevent leaving anything out because you have a written checklist for the conversation.

    2. The fix for situation 4 above is simple to understand, but difficult to execute.  Since the presenter does not know what kind of learner the listener is or if presenting to multiple people with different learning styles the presenter must present in all three styles.  It’s what school teachers are taught to do.  For every key point the presenter must speak the message, draw or show pictures with the message, and evoke emotion in the audience or get them to write it down. If you “listen” carefully to the listener, they will give you clues that give away their learning style.  LISTENERS say something like, “I hear what you are saying. Or, that does not sound right.” SEERS say something like, “I see what you mean. Or, that does not look right.” KINESTHETICS say something like, “That feels right to me. Or, that does not resonate with me.”

  5. A big roadblock in peer-to-peer and subordinate to leader communication is where the speaker allows the listener to stop listening.  This also happens in sales communications.  It’s very common in these situations for the listener to try to speed up the communication by cutting the speaker off by saying something like, “…I understand that, move on.” Or, sometimes they say, “…that’s enough background, move on to your recommendation.” In both of these cases the speaker often “moves on” and thereby allows the listener to avoid hearing the message.  Clearly, there are many other similar situations.

    1. The fix for situation 5 above is to not accept the “move on” command.  Admittedly this is hard to do when speaking to a manager or buyer.  But, the alternative is a poor performance appraisal, missed project objective, lost sale, etc.  I think you would be surprised how many times the listener would back down and listen more if you asked.  The trick to get the listener’s attention is to give them a reason to listen.  Like: “Our success depends on our being in sync on this.  Let’s just take a couple more minutes to assure we are in agreement on the key points.” Or, “I think there are two key points that you need to understand in order for us to succeed in our project goals. Let’s at least review those before moving on.”

  6. The place where many of us bore our listeners is when answering the question, “What do you do.”  We bore our listeners because we give the same boring, non-descriptive answer as everyone else.  Allow me to call this the “elevator pitch.”  It’s the 20 second answer that if you are good at it and don’t bore your listener, you will get the desired, “Tell me more.”

    1. The fix for situation 6 above if the question is about you personally is to NOT answer with your work, job, job title or anything related to work.  You will surprise and delight your listener if you answer with, “I enjoy gardening and I grow a unique type of rose that gives off an aroma that people love to smell.” Or, “I enjoy photography and compete in local photo contests as a way to build my skills.  My focus is nature photography which gets me out doors and close to nature, which is something I’ve enjoyed since I was a Boy Scout.”

    2. If the question is about your business, the answer gets a little more complex.  Here I am going to suggest my format for the “elevator pitch.” “For [the typical buyer] Who [statement of the buyer need or opportunity] The [product/service name] is a [product/service category] That [compelling reason to buy] Unlike [primary competitive alternatives] Our product [statement of primary differentiation].  Before I give you a couple of examples I hope you can already see how this is different from elevator pitches you use or have heard.  I also hope you can see how this answer is going to drive interest and the desired, “``Tell me more.”

    3. EXAMPLE 1: For [companies focused1] on [improving their planning, leadership and growth2] we help through the use of our sales, business development and marketing [improvement programs3].  Our 30 years of experience bring our clients [unique alternatives4] and unlike other consulting companies, we are [facilitators5] who are involved in and [guarantee6] your successful improvement.

      For1, Need2, Product3, Reason4, Unlike5, Differentiate6

    4. EXAMPLE 2: For [affordable housing developers1] that are looking to [build progressive and functional communities2], XYZ Architects’ staff of seasoned [architects and land planners3] have built a portfolio of redevelopment “[communities that work4].”  Unlike other architectural firms, XYZ is continuously [reevaluating the affordable housing market trends5] and adding [esthetic and accessibility6] to this critical sector. 

      For1, Need2, Product3, Reason4, Unlike5, Differentiate6

In summary, there is a lot we can do to be sure we are heard.  As usual, my suggestion is don’t try to do everything.  Pick one or two items from the newsletter and give it a try.  When you have a groove swing on them, then pick another one or two items.  Good Luck.

Cary | Raleigh | Research Triangle Park | Greensboro | North Carolina
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