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Listening: a reassuring constant in a time of uncertainty

Graham Drew

Jun 19, 2022

How an effective listening strategy could help you through challenging times

Times are tough. Inflation is soaring, cost of living likewise, global equity markets are down 11% at the last count, conflict in Ukraine continues, the UK is mired in political uncertainty, the spectre of recession is looming…and I haven’t even mentioned the pandemic yet!

But what to do? It’s entirely reasonable to respond to the need to hunker down, to do what you know you do well, to take it day-by-day, and weather the storm. Depending on the length of your career, you’ll have been through recession(s) before - it’s tough, but doable.

Or is it? Increasingly, commentators are suggesting that this time it could be different. The pandemic has changed the rules of the game because so much has altered about the way we work over the last two years. Previous recession strategies may no longer be enough.

I wonder if this time just being “good” at what we do, having a “great” brand, being “specialist” may not protect even today’s go-to supplier from the likely turmoil ahead of us. But all is not lost. Because with change comes opportunity. And I believe the great opportunity here, is great relationships.

Building understanding, building relationships

The truly agile business will already be working hard at laying the groundwork for building trusted, long-term, interdependent relationships with their customers. They will be getting close, and I mean really close to their key customers. They will be seeking to understand everything they can about their customers’ businesses, their plans, risks, opportunities. Then they will work together to craft value for both parties in seamless, proactive, and creative ways.

And the best way to gain that understanding? Through a disciplined focus on listening at both an individual and business level (don’t forget you are speaking to a person as well as a company). If companies can equip their teams with exceptional questioning and listening skills, and prioritise the gaining of real insight and understanding of those they work with, they will build themselves a firm foundation for staying the course. Hard times test any relationship, and a commercial relationship is no different. But the stronger and more trusted that relationship is, the more likely it is to endure.

The key to powerful questioning

When we are working with our clients on developing advanced questioning and listening skills, we often take time to consider how to craft a truly powerful question, with reference to the following 3 step model.

1. Decide what type of answer you are looking for:

a. Is it definitive – in the form of facts and data?

b. Is it opinion based – what do they think?

c. Is it comparative – better or worse than something else?

2. Be deliberate about the type of question you ask.

a. You'll be familiar with “open” and “closed” questions, but consider probing even deeper with the ten other question types available to us.

3. Be deliberate about the form of question you ask:

a. What language will you use?

b. What assumptions are embedded in your question and are you seeking to validate or challenge these?

By questioning in a considered and planned way, you enhance your ability to elicit and listen to new, informed understanding.

So if you find yourself awake in the wee small hours wondering about an uncertain future, start planning your listening strategy – it could make all the difference.

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