In business, we have all sorts of plans… strategic plans, sales plans, operations plans, marketing plans. Plans, plans everywhere. And for the last twenty years our clients have also heard my colleagues and me talk at length about message plans. There is no shortage of plans in the world of business.
But how many of us make a listening plan? Precious few, in my experience.
Listening is often ignored as a critical skill. Or at a minimum, we pay lip service to the importance of listening. It just isn’t something that most people prioritize in any meaningful way.
But my colleagues and I think differently about it, and not only think it is important. We think it can and should be planned for. It may seem like the simplest thing in the world to do… just focus and listen. The idea of taking a few minutes to actually craft a plan for doing so might seem foolish. But most of us, no matter how well-intentioned we may be, are actually terrible listeners. We live in a hyper-paced, multitasking, information-overloaded business world. Even when we think we are listening, we usually only have about 50% of our brain — if that — tuned in to the person speaking.
More than likely, you are thinking about what you want to say next, the next meeting, that email you want to write to your boss, the angry client you have to appease, your kid’s doctor appointment, where you put the handout you need for tomorrow’s big presentation, lunch, the budget overrun you need to justify.
The beauty of a listening plan is that it gives your listening intention, structure and purpose. By taking just a few minutes to outline what’s important to hear and what you want to achieve by listening, you’ll have new motivation to pay attention, take notes, and really absorb the information you are receiving.
What goes into a listening plan? First, think about your goal — both your short-term goal (what you want out of this specific meeting) and your long-term goal (what you want in the next meeting, the next quarter, or even over the next year). Then, think about the following:
• What don’t you know that could help you achieve your goals?
• What goals does the other person have?
• What pressures are they facing?
• What do they think about you, your product, your company, or your initiative?
• How does your goal impact their business?
• How big of an ask are you making of them? Remember, what may seem like a small ask to you might actually be a significant ask to them. That’s something you are trying to find out.
Make a determined effort to hear all this information in what they say. Plan out some questions that will help elicit this information. Take notes so that you don’t ask them to repeat something they’ve already told you.
Another benefit of staying focused as part of a listening plan is that it makes it more likely that you’ll pick up on your audience’s non-verbal communication. Pay attention to changes in body language, tone of voice or facial expressions. Most people instinctively react in these non-verbal ways to information that they feel strongly about, either negatively or positively. If you mention pricing and your audience starts taking copious notes, you can infer that cost is important to them. If you talk about building community and the CEO in the room is nodding along, that’s a selling point.
A listening plan can give you an advantage in any situation. If you are going into a meeting as a team, it has the added benefit of making sure that the entire team is aligned on goals and focused on the same key information. You can also divide and conquer: If each person on the team is listening for particular information or is focused on one particular person, you have a better chance of capturing a wider range of information.
With a listening plan, focus and retention skyrocket. Not only will you learn more, but your audience will feel your intention and attention, which will build your credibility and create a strong relationship. It’s a simple step that can pay off dramatically.
Listening deserves more than lip service. It should be prioritized. And it deserves a plan.
Have a great day.
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