Active Listening – Focus on More Than the Words Spoken

True listening skills often involve focusing on more than just the words that someone says. When I worked at Walt Disney World in Orlando, I would enjoy spending time walking in the parks.  If a guest came up to me and asked, “when does the 3 o’clock parade begin?” it would be tempting to respond with a sarcastic comment to what seems to be a silly question. But what I was taught is to listen to more than just the words, knowing that the guest was really interested in things like the following:

  • Where does the parade begin?
  • Is this a good place to watch the parade?
  • How long will it last?

So instead of simply answering their literal question, I would immediately start providing the additional information.

College Days

Another example comes from my days as a student at Texas A&M University. One of our fun traditions was “Midnight Yell Practice.” If was not uncommon for a visitor to our campus on a Friday night during football season to inquire about this event. They might say, “when does Midnight Yell begin?” Although, if the visitor was from a school down the road in Austin, they might be asking about the start time, most people were really interested in obtaining more information about the midnight festivity. I explained that the Aggie Band would begin the evening with the drum majors lighting a torch and leading the band towards the football stadium, Kyle Field. I might also share that it usually lasts about 30 minutes and the stadium will have 30,000 to 40,000 Aggies there to show their support for the team by practicing the cheers, or as we call them “yells.”

Anticipating Needs

When you engage in any conversation, whether it be with a customer or a co-worker, try to think about what they may need or want, even if they don’t know how to adequately verbalize their question. Anticipate their questions.  Provide more than they are requesting.

While at Disney, I managed an IT support call center where all of the fellow Cast Members (Disney employees) would call if they were having problems with their computer or related equipment. I can still remember overhearing a conversation between two of my agents. One had just hung up from a call helping a person with a technical issue.  One agent said to their co-worker: “I’ll bet you $5 that they will call back asking about XYZ issue.  They always call back the next day after we solve the first problem.” I interrupted the conversation and asked why the agent had not gone ahead and offered to resolve the second issue while they had the person on the phone instead of waiting for them to call back.

Many times, you may be an expert in a particular field and the people you interact with are not. They don’t know what they don’t know. Take the initiative to offer suggestions, and address topics that may be of interest to them.

Listen First, Then Respond

If you are like me, in order to really hear someone, I have to work a bit to focus on what the other person is saying.  For many of us, listening is just time to come up with our response. But, we should be so focused on what the person is saying that there may be a slight pause when they finish during which you are coming up with your response. We are uncomfortable with any silence in a conversation, but try disciplining yourself to not think of how to respond until they finish speaking.

Being a great listener is a rare skill today, but those who possess it are less likely to have errors in an order or miss what a customer is truly requesting. Evaluate your listening skills this week and commit to truly listen for the true meaning behind what is being said.

For any comments or questions, feel free to reach out to start a conversation.