22 Jun 2024
The voice of the independent garage sector

Shut up and listen

If I asked the question ‘are you a good listener?’ I would imagine most of you would think that you are.
Imagine the following scenarios;

  • You are having a one-to-one meeting with a member of your team in your office. Your computer pings with an incoming email and you glance at the corner of your monitor to take a quick look at who it is from
  • You are having your team’s monthly meeting and your phone or smart watch buzzes with a new message, and you take a quick look
  • You are having a discussion with a supplier/customer regarding an issue and something happens outside and you glance out the window to see what is going on.

In all the above, you are not actively listening.

Taken from the book ‘Stolen Focus’ by Johann Hari is the following excerpt. When I went to interview Professor Earl Miller, he says there is one key fact that every human needs to understand. Your brain can only produce one or two thoughts in your conscious mind at once. But rather than acknowledge this, we invented a myth. The myth is that we can think about three, five or 10 things at the same time. In the 60s, computer scientists invented machines with more than one processor so they could really do two things at once. They called this ‘multitasking.’ We took the concept and applied it to ourselves.”

What is really happening here, is we are switching from one task to another albeit quickly. So when we look at our phone, watch, monitor what we are really doing is disengaging and not listening to the conversation, switching back quickly and we lose focus.
When a customer is in your reception and makes it clear that they want to communicate, it should be about the customer not you or the business. A skill from front of house is to be able to make this customer feel important and listened to, whatever they choose to discuss.

Customer – “We were looking at visiting Vietnam this year.”

Your chimp brain is jumping up and down because you went there six months ago. In your head you are putting together your reply –

“I went there, it’s amazing. I stayed here, I visited here etc.”
This is a classic example of listening to respond and not to understand. You have missed the part where your customer says – “but sadly my wife had a stroke and now we can’t go”

The clue is in the first sentence, we were looking. It is in the past tense.

Your response would have been much different if you had listened to understand. “Sorry to hear that. How are you and your wife coping? Could we help in the future by collecting your car for you?” Imagine how your customer felt when he left your reception in this instance.

Active listening
Not listening is not a visual thing. You cannot just see that someone is not listening unless they are drumming their fingers impatiently on a desk. It is just the inability to pay attention to what someone else is saying, you hear but you don’t listen. Actively listening means that you give that person your full attention, ears open, eye contact and mouth closed. There are ways to show that you are paying attention, you can repeat the last few words that someone has said, you can nod at the appropriate time and you can reiterate what you have heard when that person has finished to ensure you have heard and understood.
Think about the message that you give when you don’t listen to understand;

  •  Your views are not important
  •  You are not important
  •  You are wrong
  •  I know this already
  •  You are wasting my time.

Imagine that you are a manager and every time an employee tries to address a problem or an idea with you, you give them the listening to respond treatment. Normally because you get defensive or think you know better. What do you think happens over time? Yep, got it in one, they stop trying.

So, we have established that we cannot multitask and there are always distractions, so back to the question ‘Are you a good listener?