We all know how to listen – we’ve done it all our lives, so why do we need to remind ourselves to hear?
Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellars) to hotel clerk at reception: Does your dog bite?
Hotel clerk: No
Inspector Clouseau to dog: Nice doggie
Dog bites Clouseau
Inspector Clouseau A-aaagh…I thought you said it didn’t bite
Hotel clerk: That is not my dog

This small scene from The Pink Panther, quoted by James Borg in The Art of Influencing People, (2nd edition 2007), is part of a very funny film: it is also, coincidentally, a great moral story for us: Be very careful to hear both the question you ask, and the answer you get!  


Why is it important to us as business men and women to really hear what we’re being told?

1. Safety. We are in unfamiliar territory – let’s keep ourselves safe by hearing the signals that are actually being sent to us!

In any conversation, only a small proportion of what we are being told is in the words – the rest is in the tone, body language and behaviour of the speaker. We need to hear it all!

2.  Speed. We are in competition – whoever hears it first, and attaches the right context to it, is the one who benefits most!

In an informal meeting, someone is looking for a partner in a new enterprise. They’re nervous so they’re using jargon. In the middle of all this they relax for a second or two and the real message shines. Hear it and engage with it and you could be on a winner. Switch off and miss it, you could be kicking yourself

3. Image. Our potential clients remember the people who pay us the compliment of listening!

Customers and clients buy from people they feel engaged with. If you are truly listening, the person who is talking is very much more likely to enjoy your presence and remember you. In my presentations I (and many like me) have my eyes drawn to who is really actively listening, and my heart goes out to them – they are why I came here! I often find myself smiling at them.


How do we really listen?

  1.  Sincerely. Find a reason to be interested in what your contact is saying: ideally before you meet. Of course, Jean Giraudoux (French diplomat 1882-1944) might have been right “The secret of success is sincerity: once you can fake that, you’ve got it made!”. But like genuine smiling, genuine listening is in the eyes, and it can’t be faked – people spot the difference at an instinctive level
  2. Interactively. Check what you’re hearing. Do it in an objective way, sure “Do you mean he said …” – will make sure you’ve got the message But do it in an engaging way “Really? She said ….? That’s awful!” will get you engagement from the person you’re listening to.
  3. Companionably. Give as well as get. Don’t try to top people’s anecdotes, but do them the favour of joining in on the point they are making!

Good luck with your listening! And if we bump into each other sometime, here’s to engaging each other – let’s listen, really hear and learn!

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