Recapturing the Lost Art of Listening


We all hear things, but do we really listen

Of the five senses, Sight, Smell, touch, Hearing and Taste, hearing or better yet listening gives you the best opportunity to gather the most information at one time. Listening is an ART that needs to be initially developed and continually worked on. By listening to that persons concerns and opinions you have opened the door to the knowledge you will need to meet those concerns and opinions.

Although for the most part people are visually oriented and prefer to see as well as hear about your product and/or services. But you as the Fixed Op’s Manager, Service Writer, Parts Person or a part of the Management team you are on a mission to gatherer the necessary information needed to be aware as to what that Customer Client or Vendor is relating to you. Be careful about assuming you know what they the Customer wants or what you think they need, by letting the Customer Client or Vendor express his or her concerns about their needs you have the opportunity to offer to them the answers to those concerns with ideas and solutions they may never have thought of or even known they needed.

Let’s get a little more specific about listening. We hear things all the time, and your brain processes it, your memory has these sounds stored in its gray matter, you may hear a siren, the tone on your cell phone or the alarm that wakes you up in the morning, or that white noise in the background, the sound of people talking. But that is not listening. Developing that “art of listening” is a practiced effort, while on any given day you may have a million things going on in your head and it takes real concentration to push aside all those “to do” items and LISTEN.

One of the best ways to let that person know your listening is too make eye contact, this lets them know that they have your full undivided attention. You may also want to nod occasionally, make a small acknowledgement such as a yes, no, or I understand so as to keep the conversation moving. If there tends to be a lag in their input, or if they are drifting off topic, a quick question may help keep them focused until you have gathered the information you were looking for. It is good to understand that a person is more likely to be forth-coming if they feel you are really listening and they have your undivided attention.

If you have the unique opportunity to be face to face with the customer, client, vendor or employee this is where your Customer Service and inter-personal skills come into play, putting that person at ease is paramount. By making them feel welcome they will tend to be less guarded and more open to a conversation. After all what ever the purpose of the meeting is, you need to establish the opportunity for an open dialogue.

If you are that Service Writer your first goal should be to develop a rapport with that customer, call them by name, if you know they are a returning customer thank them for coming back, ask them how you can be of help, then start listening.

The Parts Counter person has a special challenge, as most of the time they are dealing with customers who have only a cursory knowledge of the part they are wishing to purchase. There again this may take some patience on the Counter Persons part to listen to the customers concerns and get him what he actually needs.

The Wholesale Parts person deals on a daily basis with primarily the same customers. Even though these are Industry professionals They are owed the same courtesy as anyone else, the rapport you develop with that customer is listening beyond the parts order. Whether it’s hearing about his hobbies, his family or shop talk that is what cements the relationship together.

As the Fixed Op’s Manager, you have been given the task of overseeing numerus Departments, all with their own set of functions, concerns and responsibilities. Your experience and knowledge gives you the expertise to manage the multitude of obligations you have been tasked with. But as we know each one of these Departments is under the direction of a Manager, second tier managers and support personnel, all with their own set of personalities, attitudes and personal issues. Department Heads, Managers and the support people all owe you the respect of your position, getting to know all those involved as to their potential and their limitations gives you the edge as to how to get the most out of each individual and the entire team.

Being that “fly on the wall” over hearing conversations between employees many times brings to light concerns and observations that normally won’t be brought up in direct conversations. One on one conversations are your best opportunity to “listen” to the individual. If at all possible, this should never be done in your office, there is a built-in intimidation factor of sitting across the desk from your boss. Taking a walk around the facility, meeting over a cup of coffee, taking your management team to lunch off site, or bringing in a food truck for the crew with picknick tables gives you that open conversation opportunity to listen.

Once you have developed that relationship, it is time to start listening. It may be that you will need to help them along with some open-ended questions, but listening is key. As you get them to step a little outside the work environment and get them to open up personally you are better able to see why they do things the way they do. People are made up of their life experiences, why some people are more aggressive, and others are more passive, others are extraverted or introverted and still others are shy or outgoing, knowing a little more about a person’s personality and background gives you that additional bit of information to better manage the individual and the team.

We live in an information rich world, with Google, Face Book and the multitude of other platforms who are gathering our information, on a daily basis, the opportunity to see into the lives of others is boundless. But that is just raw information and lacks the personal interaction of a face to face conversation. You don’t want to disregard the basic data on an individual as this will give you some insight into his or her “real Life.” Human Resources will probably have a resume on file if it concerns an employee but, resumes have been known to sometimes accent the positive while down playing the not so positive aspects of a persons. They also only track the business life of the person while leaving out their characteristics and personal likes and dislikes as well as their other life’s accomplishments.

And obviously the more information you have at hand allows you to better evaluate the individual and what it is you are expecting from them. With some basic personal data in front of you it allows you to adjust your listening and direct the conversation to accomplish the end result you are looking for.

The Art of Listening has taken a back seat to the screen of knowledge, be it a cell phone, lap top or computer, many times it is easier and less invasive on our life to utilize this approach rather than to have an actual conversation. That being said an actual interaction with someone brings to the top through body language, facial expressions and verbalization context the meaning of the listening experience.

We have come along way since man first uttered something that echoed off the cave wall, to the now hundreds of spoken languages through out the known world and with all that it still comes down to, “is any one listening?”