What is an active listener? In short, an active listener is engaged with the speaker. They ask relevant quetions, the avoid passing judgment until the speaker is finished, the give physical cues that they’re listening, and they make the speaker feel heard and respected.
It’s 1970, I’m sixteen years old and in love with radio broadcasting. I even got a summer job as a d.j. at the local radio station in my hometown. Kansas City was about two hours away, but the powerful signals from its big radio stations would reach my hometown and I was a non-stop, nearly obsessive, active listener. (I nearly defined, by my behavior, what is an active listener.) I would try, with my adolescent voice, to imitate the deep, resonant voices of the d.j.s. My dream was to work at one of those big stations in Kansas City, so I started applying to them. I would make the two-hour drive to the city and visit each of the big stations. Of course, at the age of 16, I didn’t make it past the receptionist, but still, I kept applying. One of the stations was WDAF which in 1977 switched to an urban country music format. They sounded great! I desperately wanted to be a part of their on-air team, so I kept applying. Eventually, I got to meet the program director for an interview. Part of the process of applying to be a d.j. at a radio station involves submitting recordings of yourself on the air. I tailored my on-air performance to sound like the d.j.s on WDAF. I kept listening to the station and honing my own performance to match what I heard over the air. Finally, in 1979, the program director at WDAF called. “Don, I’d like you to come to work for me on the air!” It was my dream come true and I spent the next 13 years in on-air and management positions at that great radio station. My dream came true because I listened. I listened to the station’s programming, I listened to the advice from the program director, and I listened to other great broadcasters. I didn’t talk (except, of course, when I was on the air). I listened.
What is An Active Listener?
Later, as a program director, I noticed there were two separate and distinct groups of people who would apply for jobs at the station. There were the kind who talked and the kind who listened. The kind who talked would go on ad nauseum about how great they were. What I heard was blah, blah, blah. The kind who listened would ask questions about the station, about how we made hiring decisions, about my background, about the city, about country music, and about nearly any other subject imaginable. By asking relevant questions and careful listening, they demonstrated what is active listening. Guess who was more likely to get hired.
Why Listening Matters
So what does this have to do with IT customer service? Simple. Our world is filled with many talkers and few listeners, yet it is the listeners who learn new ideas, new information, and better ways of doing things. It is also the listeners who understand customer problems and offer relevant, helpful solutions. Have you ever called customer service or tech support and felt like the rep wasn’t paying any attention to you? I certainly have. I’ve even had it happen in an email support session where I felt like the support rep didn’t even read my email. Instead of taking the time to listen and understand whatever the issue was, they jumped to conclusions and offered irrelevant solutions that often had nothing to do with the reason for my call or email. It was a waste of my time and theirs, too. It was all because they were talking instead of listening. Frankly, they were focused on themselves and not their customer. Don’t let that happen with your customers or co-workers.
Lose distractions and focus on the other person. They’re depending on you to help them solve a problem. Be humble. Ask questions to ensure you fully understand the issue. The Dalai Lama said it so well. When we speak, we only hear what we already know. To learn something new, stop talking and listen. And when you do talk, be a person more of questions than of statements.
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