Listening in Business

This month one of the topics we’re talking about is listening. It’s so important if you want to be successful in business to be listening. Let’s take a minute today to talk about the important things you should be listening to if you want to be successful.

Your customers: what are they saying? They will let you know about their dissatisfaction and the things they love. The internet is a great place to find reviews about your products and services, and you should invite your customers to give you feedback directly as well. You can also listen to their silence and their lack of return to your business and products/services as a clue as to how much they don’t like you.

Your suppliers: are your suppliers constantly raising prices? Are they hesitating on delivery? Do they tell you it’s difficult to get what you ask for? If so it may be a clue that there’s something broken or not working right in your supply chain.

Your employees: your employees are often your first line of interaction between your customers and your products/services, so it’s important to listen to what they have to say about what you offer, what customers are saying to them, things they’re feeling challenged by and what they would like to see changed. If your employees aren’t happy, aren’t respected and don’t think your product or service is worth what you’re charging then you’ll have some difficulty getting them to work at their best for your company.

Your marketing: I know it can sometimes be difficult to understand all the metrics and know exactly what things mean, but it’s important to be in touch with your marketing team to see how people are responding to your marketing. If they’re not responding and you’ve done the proper a/b testing, and tried different marketing opportunities for a consistent period of time, maybe the marketing isn’t the issue.

The market/business world: are you in tune with what’s going on in other businesses? With how they’re marketing their products? With what’s going on with your competitors? With how others are marketing? With government or industry changes that might affect you? I know it sounds like a lot of work but it’s important to be aware of what’s going on outside of your company, not just inside your company.

How good of a listener are you as a business leader? Take time today to really listen to what’s going on in and around your business.

Listening for Success

This month we’ll be talking about listening, so today I wanted to start off talking about why listening is such an important skill for your success and how to be most successful at it. First of all, listening is a skill, it’s something you can improve. There are also layers to listening which means it’s not that boring inactivity that you really have no responsibilities during. An important part of listening is asking clarifying questions to better understand what is being communicated.

I believe you can listen while taking notes, but you can’t listen while replying to emails on your phone or playing a game if you really want to give the person speaking the respect they deserve and get the most benefit from your listening. You also aren’t fully listening if you’re too busy coming up with counterarguments and not fully hearing what they’re trying to tell you.

So why is listening so important? Because when we don’t listen some epic mistakes can be made, people can be let down, you can have to do things multiple times to get them right, you can embarrass yourself, you can share something that wasn’t meant to be shared, and you can miss out on really important information. Also, if you really want someone to listen to you, it’s only right that you listen to what they have to say.

But as I mentioned above listening is just the first step, actually the first step is being willing to listen and being open to what you hear. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with what you hear, but it does mean that out of respect for the other person you’re going to hear them out and after you’ve heard it all if you’re not in agreement with what they’ve said you’re going to agree to disagree.

After you’ve listened then it’s important to ask clarifying questions. These questions can help you avoid doing things multiple times because you didn’t get sufficient information in the first place, but they can also help you make sure there are no misunderstandings in what you’re hearing and the other person is trying to tell you.

After listening comes either action or talking then action. Sometimes there’s nothing more to discuss, the other person has laid out their plans, you’ve heard them, understood and agreed, and they can go and do their thing. But other times further discussion is necessary to figure out what each person involved is responsible for and what they are or aren’t willing to do, before any action can be taken.

As we finish out this week and enter into this new month I encourage you to practice proactive listening. When was the last time you really listened?

The Blame Game

Do you know one of the most “popular” topics for couples, and families too? Blame. From saying that the dog ate the homework, to the kids spilled cereal (and milk) on the contract, to the relationship failing because your partner never took out the trash, we’re pretty quick to point fingers and try to get to the bottom of who is to blame.

First, let me say that it is important that responsibility is taken/given for things that happen or don’t happen. It’s important to be honest about what you’re seeing and what happens. However, it’s almost never the case that the blame rests solely on one person (or dog). It’s almost always the case that there are multiple factors, and multiple people to blame. Which means that as much as you can (and should) point fingers, you’ve really got to take stock of who else could be responsible in the matter as well, including yourself.

The key to the blame game (and its resolution), isn’t anything really revolutionary, it’s something that I’ve said repeatedly and is one of the biggest keys to a successful relationship: communication. Yes, pointing fingers will happen even in the best families and relationships, but the conversation needs to be more than you yelling at them for doing something or not doing something and vice versa. The conversation needs to discuss the issues you’ve got, why things weren’t done or were done, and what is going to happen or change moving forward to help avoid this in the future. These types of civil discussions don’t happen often enough in relationships and families, and as a result big divides are created between people.

Of course the blame and the conversations only go so far: without a willingness to change on all parties’ part and action taken as decided in the conversation, there’s not much point to having the conversation or even having the blame (and subsequent fight) in the first place. If the partner who is most to blame isn’t willing to do things differently in the future or doesn’t see their error, you’ve got a choice to leave, to make changes in your life, or you have to decide it’s not as big of a deal as you’re making it out to be. When it comes to family blame situations, you either have to take control as the parent, or get another party involved who can help straighten things out and be the leader your kids need.

There’s no shame in admitting that you need help, that you and your partner need help or that your family needs help. The only shame you should feel is if you choose to not get someone the help they need.

Freedom to be Different

This month one of the topics we’ll be taking a look at is the topic of freedom. Part of that freedom that everyone wants to embrace is the freedom to be who they are, to be themselves, and to not be ridiculed or rejected because they’re different. It’s not always easy to give others that freedom because we don’t understand them or their differences, or think that their differences make them wrong/bad. Part of that struggle is a conversation issue, but it might not be the one you’re thinking it is, because there are lots of people around the world having great conversations and lots of opportunities throughout social media and tons of other forums, which is good news.  But most of those conversations are happening between people that who share the same differences (for example between survivors of a particular trauma or people who have a medical condition or people with a passion for bratwurst).

I think a big part of the conversation issue is that some people aren’t willing to listen to others share about their differences, and part of that unwillingness has to do with fears. Fears about the other person’s story actually making a lot of sense, being able to identify with them, or even finding out that maybe the differences aren’t so different after all. If any of those things happen we have to readjust what we know and especially how we interact with them, and that can be really scary or intimidating. It also leads into the possibility that we were wrong about the type of person they are, or wrong about how wrong/bad/weird their difference is, and that’s not easy to swallow either.

I’m not suggesting that we should sit down with terrorists and try to understand or accept our differences, that’s a completely different conversation for another day. What I’m talking about here is two people (or a group of people) talking long before things would ever escalate to war/genocide/massacre level, or even to protest level. I’m talking about regular citizens having conversations with cops, people of different cultures talking, or the older generations talking with the younger ones.

I don’t believe that we’ll all love each other and everything will be perfect if we have these conversations, but I think that we’ll all be able to breathe a little easier if we were a little more open to each of us being different and that difference being OK. Yes, it will mean that we’ll have to suspend our judgment, be open to seeing the world in a new way and maybe even be wrong about what we knew before, not to mention become better communicators. But if we really want a better world for the next generation, I think it’s important that we take the conversations out of our individual groups and start talking among ourselves.  Will you join me in being open to being different, and maybe even someday to celebrating our differences?

Challenged by Technology

Recently I’ve been reflecting on some of the challenges of being in business and being a customer as well. There are things we should be taking into consideration for regarding our customers and what we’re selling as well as how we’re communicating with them, especially regarding changes. This week I accidentally left my phone at home for a period of time which got me thinking about changes and the technology that’s so central to our lives now.

The first thing I was reminded of was the fact that there are and always will be changes happening. Sometimes changes happen that someone thinks is a really good idea but many customers hate, or the biggest issue isn’t the change, it’s the lack of communication about the upcoming change. Changes are a necessary and almost inevitable part of life and business but you can’t seriously make changes without notifying your users of those changes, especially if it’s something that may so (negatively) impact their business that they have to find a replacement.

The second thing I thought about was how instant our world has become. Technology has enabled us to connect within seconds with many parts of the world, whether we’re using email, phones, social media or messaging. It’s amazing and has so many benefits to offer the world from emergency situations to providing support and love even from many miles away. I’m not one of those people who sits at my computer all day and waits for an email so I can reply to it instantly. I do believe that we can (and should) have lives and not be attached to our devices 24/7. So maybe it’s a good thing if we all leave our devices home once in a while.

Finally, I’ve been thinking about ease of use. Technology in general does make it much easier to do so many things. But sometimes there are changes made or features added that make it harder to use the technology. There are also times when an update or upgrade is desperately needed but it’s not made (or the change that isn’t needed is the one that’s made). I think sometimes in our desire to be #1 or the most trendy or the one with the most features we forget about the people and how easy or difficult it is to use.

This week in your dealings with technology I encourage you to try something new with technology. Maybe you’ll find that the change isn’t as difficult as you thought it would be.

Relationship Give and Take

Healthy relationships should have give and take, you and your partner should both contribute in different ways to the relationship and your lives together, neither of you should be the only one putting in effort. If that’s the case then it’s definitely not a partnership and not really a relationship. Yes there will be times that you’re giving most of the effort at home while your partner does most of the working, and there will be times when the situation is reversed. It’s healthy for both of you to see both sides of the world, so that no one gets too comfortable and doesn’t appreciate what the other does.

As part of that give and take you and your partner need to be communicating. I know it’s something I bring up frequently, but that’s because it’s something most of us struggle with. You need to be sharing what goes on in your day, how you’re feeling, your emotions, your dreams, your fears, things you need your partner’s input/effort/time/support on, and your appreciation for your partner and what they do. No, you don’t have to have super deep conversations every day but you should have them at the very least once a month (probably closer to weekly).

As important as communication is, it goes hand in hand with another very important thing: responsibility. It’s up to you as an adult to take responsibility for the things in your life that need doing. Don’t wait for your partner to tell you to do something or seek out constant affirmation and appreciation on the job you did. As I said there are things you should be doing or at least discussing with your partner, but many things in our daily lives don’t need that discussion, it just needs to be done for the house, kids, your partner or yourself.

This week I encourage you to look into the communications and responsibilities of your relationship and commit to doing better.

Business Communication Fails

One of the things that makes this world that we live in so amazing is that we can have instant and easy communication with just about anyone anywhere around the world. All it takes is a way for both of us to connect, like an email or social media site or phone or calling platform.  Which means there is no excuse for not communicating.  Each day I wade through multiple emails and other communications that clearly indicate that the person who wrote them didn’t read my earlier reply to them, didn’t check for previous communications between us, didn’t bother to read the information I provided (whether it be a website or document or other communication), or didn’t bother to do a quick 10 second internet search, not to mention the spelling and grammar issues I see often.  And then there are the people/companies who don’t bother to communicate with their buyers, investors or users, they just make changes and expect you to be cool with it.

I understand the need for privacy when you’re working on something new and unique and the right of a company to make whatever changes they see fit to make.  However, not only do I think it’s not right to make those changes without notifying people first (whether it’s a change in price or offering, or app/site downtime), it’s also lazy, rude and irresponsible.  I’m not suggesting that you have to tell people all about the new idea you’re working on or exactly what you’re going to be working on during site downtime for example, but giving people 24 hours advanced notice before a price increase hits your credit card or downtime is happening allows people to prepare and make the necessary decisions.

It takes less than 15 minutes to create and write a very simple email, social post or other notification, probably another 5 to get it reviewed by someone else if necessary and about 2 seconds to send it out.  That’s less than 30 minutes of work to avoid pissing people off, avoid losing (long time) customers and make everyone’s lives run smoother.  Two businesses I work with this week decided not to send out this simple contact and one is losing a good portion of my business as a result.

So the question is: are you avoiding letting people know? Are you scared to let them know what you’re doing? Are you too lazy to keep people informed? Do you not care about your customers that much?  What is holding you back from being a communicating business and are you ready for the potential results?

Perfection or Problems

No one is perfect, and no business is perfect.  There are businesses and people that look perfect on the outside but the inside doesn’t reflect that, and of course there are those that look like a mess outside and are a mess inside as well.  Sometimes people/businesses know they need help and are willing to ask for the help, but other times they’re seemingly clueless about anything possibly being wrong (which can be very frustrating to customers and potential customers).   I certainly experience both in the course of my work, those that think they know everything and can’t possibly have any room for improvement, and those who admit they need help.  There are people all along that spectrum as well, it’s not a black and white thing.

So let’s start at the beginning.  As I said there are no perfect businesses.   Every single business (and business owner) has at least one thing they could change or improve.  Some of those things are subjective to some customers or potential customers (like changing a spice blend in a recipe or using a specific social site), while others are broader and really impact the whole business and customer base or potential customer base (like not having a website or having rude employees). When it’s something that affects only a portion of your customers/employees you have to decide if it’s really worth it to make that change or if there’s perhaps another way you could incorporate their feedback.  For something that’s broad spectrum it’s something that usually is a whole lot less optional and really should be addressed if you want the best for your business and customers.

We’ve touched on a few of the things that tend to be wrong or frustrate customers (or employees), but here’s a more specific list: lack of detailed and specific information that is easily accessible, poor management/leadership, unexpected and unexplained wait time, poor packaging, poor product or service, lack of communication, poor pricing, inconsideration, unhelpful/uneducated employees/salespeople, and rudeness.  Most of these have very clear connections to two things: people and communication.  As much as we’re an instant society today that has high expectations for many things including businesses we buy from, there is also a willingness to wait for the good stuff or for what we really want as long as we’ve been told what the wait will be and have been dealt with in a polite and respectful manner.

Maybe you’re one of those businesses who has some more subjective things to check out, if so that’s great and they could be profitable opportunities for you.  But if you’re facing a very broad issue it’s time to take action and make changes to repair the issue.  The longer you let it hang the bigger the chance is that you’ll lose great customers and have more difficulty getting new ones.

Thankful for Relationships

I’m super excited to be looking ahead to Thanksgiving and wanted to take time today to talk about being thankful in our relationships. Relationships are full of challenges, sometimes heartbreaks, and often opportunities for joy.  They’re not for the faint of heart and take work if you really want them to be successful.  But there are also plenty of reasons to give thanks for them.  Relationships mean that we’re not alone in the world, they mean that we’ve got someone there to support us, they challenge us and help us grow, they give us a helping hand in raising kids and in fulfilling our dreams.

One of the things my partner says to me is “thank you for loving me.”  It sounds like a very simple phrase but it’s got so much power and says many things.  First, it’s an affirmation of our connection, he recognizes that I love him and am invested in our relationship.  Second it’s him admitting that he’s not perfect and may be difficult to love sometimes.  Now, if you’ve been reading along for a while you know that I don’t see a point in being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t ‘click’ with you, so even on his most challenging day he’s still someone I want to be with.  So the value in him admitting that he’s not perfect is in part him wanting reassurance that I do love him regardless or in spite of his faults, and a promise to do better because he’s as committed to us as I am.

It kills me when I see so many hurting, hurtful and broken relationships because some of them could be healthy relationships if some steps were taken sooner, while others I’m amazed that they’re still hanging in there for some unknown reason when they could very possibly be happy with someone else.  Being that this is the holiday season now I’m going to say that the glass is half full today and encourage you to take time this holiday season to rip off a few band-aids and really talk with your partner about how you can make your relationship healthier and more fulfilling.  Stop looking elsewhere, stop with the threats, stop faking it, stop lying to yourself and start talking about the problems and how you can resolve them.  Take time for just the two of you this season and build on the good that you have or rebuild the good you once had.

Missing Important Steps

There are things in life that require steps to be followed to get the best results.  One of the most obvious being cooking and baking. When you skip steps the food can turn out really bad causing not only frustration but wasted money and time. It’s why we rely on written recipes when making a new foods, so that it turns out like it’s supposed to. After we’ve made it we can try and and different things or change things, but usually you make the food as directed in the recipe the first time. So what happens if the recipe itself is missing some steps?  Because this has happened to me in the past, now when I make a new recipe I always check out a few similar ones to make sure that’s not the case, especially if the recipe I originally found seems light on details.

So what does this have to do with life? Simply that sometimes there are steps that we miss, sometimes even because we didn’t know we were supposed to take them. If you’re selling a product to someone it should come with instructions for immediate use like wash first or soak in water before planting or check for updates before using. But sometimes we get stuff with companies (or coworkers) expecting us to know what we should do, or expecting based on their research what typical behavior is (like washing clothes before wearing them). But not everyone follows that behavior, which is why it’s important to do the research because unfortunately we aren’t always told the whole story.

Leaving out pertinent details can cause serious issues, whether we’re talking about cooking, buying things, using things or relationships and communication. Sometimes we leave out details because we’re ashamed, think we’re protecting someone or don’t know the answer, other times we may leave out the details because we think it’s so obvious they can’t possibly miss it. So every so often it’s good to take a second and think about things and make sure that they really make sense in your head before proceeding. Think about what the logical thing to do would be, ask yourself if there should be other steps, and do a little research to make sure that you do have all the facts.