Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Molly Gordon.
Every conversation is an opportunity to connect with and understand another human being. The ability to listen with nothing on our minds determines our ability to realize this opportunity. At every moment, we either encounter the other person or encounter our preconceptions. Which we choose determines both the profitability and the meaningfulness of our endeavors.
Listening to clients and customers is the basis not only for effective marketing and selling, but also for sustaining motivation, engagement, and satisfaction in your work. This post takes a look at how the innocent misuse of intuition may be sabotaging your ability to listen wholeheartedly and well.
It Begins with the Best of Intentions
It is easy to go into a conversation with a client or customer with preconceptions. It’s likely that you’ve put a lot of thought into what your clients need and how you can help. If you think about it at all, you may assume that your experience, expertise, and empathy will add value to the exchange.
The danger in this assumption is that you can find yourself listening to your thinking about what a client or customer is saying, rather than listening to her actual words, body language, and other signals. You interpret what you hear and observe in terms of your preconceptions. You may even call these interpretations intuition.
Not All Intuition Is Created Equal
Intuition is the ability to apprehend or understand something directly without reasoning. At its best, intuition gives us access not only to knowledge but also to wisdom. As a coach, I have learned to value intuition highly. But I have also learned that I’m not the only participant in a conversation who has access to it.
There are two compelling reasons to solicit a client’s intuition rather than offering our own. First, I’ve come to see that the intuition our clients have for themselves is ten times more powerful than any we can offer. Second, our intuition will tend to inform us about what we already know or sense. How much more valuable it is to welcome a client’s intuition, which may well open uncharted territory!
Let Intuition Give Way to Curiosity
As a recovering intuitive, I’ve learned to regard my moments of insight as invitations to get curious. Before sharing an intuition, I ask simple questions to find out how the other person sees things. This means dropping the assumption that I already know what this person means.
For example, if I get an intuitive hit that a client’s concern about the size of an investment has to do with his self-confidence, I note it and set it aside. Then I might ask questions like these:
- How do you determine for yourself whether an investment is wise?
- What do you need in order to evaluate this investment?
- What are some examples of investments you have felt good about?
- What’s been true for you about investments that have felt right?
And if it seems to me that accessing intuition could be useful, I might ask, “What’s your intuition telling you?”
Not Listening Is Expensive, and Money Is the Least of It
Listening to or through a veil of preconceptions, no matter how well intentioned, is expensive. When you hear yourself instead of your clients and customers, you can’t connect deeply, and you won’t sell well. That’s obviously bad for your bottom line.
But not listening wholeheartedly and well also has a higher cost. It steals the juice from interactions with current and prospective clients and customers. Conversations that could enliven your work and lift your heart can deplete and discourage you instead. You may find yourself increasingly reluctant to put your work forward as your confidence in the relevance and value of your work diminishes.
But the moment you begin to listen with nothing on your mind, new possibilities blossom. (Click to tweet – thanks!)
What you hear will tell you everything you need to know about what your just-right clients need and want. Questions about what products or services to offer, how to package and present your work, and how to communicate the value of what you do will become easy to answer. And the more deeply you connect with clients and customers, the more meaningful your work will be, and the more confident you will be in putting it out there.
This article spoke to me on many levels. I often think my intuition is a) a valid replacement for what others’ really want (though I try not to), or b) a correct interpretation of what others really want. Because I DO spend so much time thinking about what someone wants or needs before speaking to them, it can be difficult to step down and resist the urge to push an agenda. This is such a good reminder of why I shouldn’t, thank you!
Molly Gordon says
Sarah, me too! The process of becoming aware of how many assumptions I make and how much they keep me from really listening has been quite humbling!
ling | business-soulwork.com says
great article, thanks for sharing. I do tap into my intuition quite a bit when working with my clients, but I always first check in with myself to make sure that my mind is “clear” and it’s indeed something I “get” from my clients, instead of my preconception or judgment talking.
It’s a fine line and when in doubt, I always listen and ask questions so the client can come to clarity by tapping into her own “guts”. I also want to point out though, sometimes clients can get sucked into their own story and in that case, I would say whatever I “get” to take them out of their mental loop (and that usually work very well.)
Molly Gordon says
Ling, I agree, it’s important not to get sucked into a client’s story. I would still ask a clarifying question and then request permission to say something challenging. That way we get buy in from them, and they have a better chance of having and owning an insight as a result.