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What I've learned to do when I set down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head... the vinegar lipped Reader Lady, who says primly, 'Well, that's not very interesting, is it?' -- Anne Lamott
Listen. This is the most important part of any conversation. You might think a conversation is all about talking, but it will not go anywhere if the listener is too busy thinking of something to say next. Pay attention to what is being said. When you listen attentively to the other person, injecting a thought or two, they will often not realize that it was they who did most of the talking, and you get the credit for being a good conversationalist - which of course, you are!
When you engage in conversation, do you worry whether the other person perceives you as a good listener? Or do you worry whether you are perceived as a good speaker? I think most of us want to be noted for the good points and keen thoughts we displayed. But is that always what's most necessary and valued by the other person?
You know, this idea that blogs are good for conversation... I'm starting to question that. Yes, they provoke discussion, but they aren't really a tool for listening. Blogs are a tool for talking. It seems to me that if a blog wanted to attract conversation, it would hand over the authoring to the reader. Wouldn't that be an interesting twist...
I started my next painting today - sort of. I decided to paint a 1" thumbnail of the painting first with a big brush. The actual painting itself will be 16" x 20". This exercise forced me into sheer values. Below is a magnified view of the literally thumb-sized sketch.
Next, I'll do the same thing but on a 3" scale. This is a good way to test colors and temperatures, I think. Then onto the big canvas.
It was a great day and a great weekend. Isn't life delicious?
If you read this web site, you know that it's a personal site. As it says in the banner, it's my playground.
Mike Sansone recently asked me what book I would write if I could write a book. I told him that I would write a book on business listening. He then recommended that I start a new blog separate from this, my personal blog, on that topic.
So I've decided to sail with the wind for once in my life.
If you would like, you can get my professional thoughts on business listening at my new other blog: Listen Well.
Maybe someday, I'll condense it all in a book. And thanks, Coach, for helping me remain coachable.
I painted the 3" version of the soon-to-be-painted 16" x 20" Poolside work I plan next.
Again, rough values, no small brushes or detail.
To give you an impression of the size of these, here are the two sketches I've done of this one next to a dime.
They're small. And fun, actually. I'm surprised by the satisfaction I get in painting these rough thumbnails of what is to be a larger work.
I learned with this sketch that lighter is better. The warm areas feel balanced to me. The cool of the blue, the warmth of the wooden fence in the background. The sunlight on the woman herself and in the palm fronds. You can't see it in these smaller versions, but she is eating up the sunshine in the peace found by a backyard pool. I hope to capture that in the larger work.
I'm satisfied with the palette I've chosen for this. Next step is to get over the chicken sensation I get before starting something new. Yep, starting a work always makes me jittery. But I ignore it, or it would never happen. I'm excited to see how it turns out.
I've been blogging on Typepad over at Listen Well. And after a week, I have to say that Typepad is the most search-unfriendly unfriendly platform one could imagine. Evidently, I have more editorial control if I pay more money every month, but that's awfully silly to me. It's not a true web site where I can upload files. It's a writing platform, and that's all.
What's the sense in that? And even at that price, it's quite limited.
Here at beatcanvas, which I wrote myself, I have total control. And here, I have a friendly way to manage my search engine placement, right down to the page title, keywords, and metatags in each post.
Besides, I have readership here, about 100 daily (or so) readers, and about 1,000 who show up sporadically each month.
So unless I find a domain I like where I can host the site, I think I'll skip the extra payments and let the Typepad platform expire. I don't see the value in it.
In the meantime, I'll post the content here beatcanvas.
I'm working on re-implementing tags within the web site this morning. One thing that's important, I think, in blog platforms but is glaringly missing is the notion of story. A story should be told in order. In the past, I've used that with the story of each painting - a reader could click into a story link here on the site and see the blogged progression of each painting - earliest post to most recent. Blogs, by nature, show the most recent post and then walk backward through history from there.
I wrote to SixApart (the makers of Typepad) about a year ago and asked why they didn't offer something like this, but in my request I called it a thread. That was too geeky of me - I should have called it what it is: a "story" - and they rejected the idea and said, "That's what tags are for." Which is true, but tags show in typical blog order. And they should. Tags are topical, and not necessarily well-represented when read as a story.
But some elements of what's displayed across multiple posts in a blog and tagged should be shown as a story. That just makes more sense. Like someone's weight loss. Or a painting. Fill in the blank for yourself.
Know of a blogging platform that allows you to choose the sort order of tagged posts? I'm interested to see how they do it, if you know of one.
So here on beatcanvas, I'll have tags, but I'll continue to have stories and they'll be separated. Stories appear in chronological order. Tags appear in reverse chronological order.
Another thing I've done here recently is introduce a random quote generator. If you go to the home page, you'll see a random quote pulled from a list of about 600 that I have. Refresh the page and a different quote appears. It's dynamic every time.
This morning, one of my favorites popped up:
You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. -- Jack London
With a club... amen. If you want it, find a way to make it. Don't settle.
I "finished" with tags and stories. You can check it out here.
I haven't tagged every post appropriately, but I will be. Just as I'm not done entering all of my favorite people, places, and things in the Thumbs Up section. Lots to do.
I say "finished" above because all projects are never really done; you just find interesting places to pause. The one thing I want to do yet with tags is to set up RSS feeds for them. But it's nice to have them working now.
The one page on the site not done at all is the Search page. Because beatcanvas is my own doing, I can set up search for both posts and for the comments made. I don't think other blogware allows for search of comments. But frankly, all of them should.
I had lunch with a friend today and we discussed an idea that I gave him two years ago and more recently two months ago. He's the PR guy for a local business I know pretty well, and he gets it. He understands that the world is participatory. Businesses ignore these trends at their peril. But good for him and the company he represents that he is on the ball.
As a child, we learn that we have importance as we can gain the attention of others. It starts with inarticulate cries - of hunger, for touch, for a diaper change. We cry out to get attention to our needs. If response comes easily, our world is secure. If not, we panic.
Fast forward to adulthood. Does this formula change?
We all want significance.
When you talk, do people listen? Or do you feel like the proverbial tree crashing in the forest?
John Gottman, an expert on relationships, writes in his book, The Relationship Cure, of what he calls the "bid."
"Let's make sure you understand what I mean when I talk about bids. A bid can be a question, a gesture, a look, a touch - any single expression that says, 'I want to feel connected to you.' A response to a bid is just that - a positive or negative answer to somebody's request for emotional connection."
If response comes easily, our world is secure. If not, we hurt. The formula doesn't change. When you bid for connection, and you receive the response of listening, you feel valued and important.
By showing that you listen to others, you also tell them that they matter.
In astrological terms, "dark matter" is an elusive substance. According to Martin White, professor of physics at UC Berkeley:
"We believe that most of the matter in the universe is dark, i.e. cannot be detected from the light which it emits (or fails to emit). This is 'stuff' which cannot be seen directly."
And yet, dark matter might be having a big impact on the universe due to its gravitational effect, just as we detected an unseen Neptune long ago by its pull on Uranus.
In business, there is also dark matter. The dark matter of business are those transactions that take place in your industry without your awareness of them. It's the stuff you don't see, and that you don't know you're missing.
What disruptive innovations will take place to radically change your business? What competitor will come along and challenge your bottom line? What customers are you missing?
Who's the 800-pound gorilla in retail today? Wal-Mart, right? The mom and pop stores never saw that coming when Wal-Mart first came onto the scene and challenged local businesses.
But look at Wal-Mart again... the online world hasn't rubbed out Wal-Mart like Wal-Mart rubbed out the mom and pop stores, but it's funny how Amazon sells mom and pop items and how eBay has its plethora of stores from mom and pop operations. Some people buy from eBay and Amazon far more than they ever set foot in a Wal-Mart.
Does this concern Wal-Mart? Do you think this impacts Wal-Mart?
Did you know that eBay gets twice the visitors to its online site than Wal-Mart does? 51 million for eBay in a month versus Wal-Mart, which had 24 million. Amazon also handily beat Wal-Mart, as Amazon had 43 million visitors in a month. The youngsters whooped up on the gorilla.
Wal-Mart has dark matter - business that happens without Wal-Mart's awareness. It bugs 'em. And it should. They're working hard to catch up.
Just as dark matter should bug you where you work. Whether you're the owner, a manager, or an employer. You can't miss what you don't know, and the attractive tug of what some unseen competitor is doing might affect the traffic to your store.
Where's the dark matter for your business? How can you tap into it?
If our military were failing miserably, that's one thing. But when there's progress, what the hell is the top senator in Congress doing making statements like that, other than coddling his base? It can only hurt our guys and strengthen the enemy. Calling Reid's remarks "outrageous" and "regrettable" is euphemistic; his comments are traitorously opportunistic. On the backs of our troops, such malice is horrific and worthy of disdain by every Amercian.
Dennis Miller had a few words for ol' Chicken Little. Hear, hear.
When customers shout their needs at a company, it's the company's job to listen and listen well. Otherwise, it might not remain in business. Listening is Job One.
Managers listen through daily reports of the business. They listen to employees, who are usually the "ears" of the company. Managers listen to market trends exhibited by competitors and in collateral industries.
It's a tough job, listening.
But when you do listen well, how do you show that you're listening?
In person, you do it with eye contact. By responding along with the flow of the conversation and with little cues - verbally and nonverbally - you show you're engaged.
A corporation, per se, can't make eye contact. Each employee can make eye contact and give the customer rapt attention. That's a good start - to build an interpersonal culture where business meets the street.
But people often feel that though they give their comments and concerns to the nearest attentive employee, the message goes no further. The attention is shallow.
No matter how large the company, people crave personal response - all business is personal. Especially now, when competitors are not just local but regional and global. How cool it is when someone suggests something to a company and, a week later, it's implemented. The customer sees response in action. They see change.
When customers see the impact of their bid, they respond with devotion to the brand.
Show that you listen, and customers will show you continued business.
I'm doing no listening whatsoever as I write this. Listening is inward, and this activity is outward.
If I own a company and I want my customer to join in conversation with me, I might write a blog post in the hope that it spurs conversation. The problem is that I'm choosing the topics. That's not a good start for listening to customers.
Customer-initiated conversations look more like this:
"Hello... ABC Plumbing? This is Mrs. Jones." "Hi Mrs. Jones. What can I do for you?"
Mrs. Jones chooses the topic.
A blog is more like this:
"Hello... world? This is Bob at ABC Plumbing. I want to talk about..."
Look at the customer-initiated topic versus ABC Plumbing's wisdom about faucet care posted on their blog for the whole world to read. Both are important and valuable communication, but one has listening at its heart and the other is, well, marketing.
Blogs are necessary and good, but they shouldn't be confused with listening.
There are lots of blogs out there that try to spur conversation with customers publicly. And sometimes that happens. But what happens on a blog is not representative of how a business listens to customers. Nor is a survey. Nor is a focus group. Every one of these methods for "listening" has its topics chosen by management. That's not truly listening.
What might a survey look like if Mrs. Jones and other current and potential customers chose the topics and questions? What if it were just fill-in-the-blank?
What if customers and potential customers chose the some of the topics on a blog site?
If conversation happens when both people enter into it with the willingness to be changed by it, then a company needs to use these tools as methods to respond to customers and change the way in which the company conducts business.
Show the response. Show the change that the customer initiated. Show that you listened.
When you listen, try not to pre-determine the topics of conversation. Otherwise you just might miss the most important thing that you need to hear.
Charles Sovek, one of my artist heroes, has passed away. I learned this from Beth, who visited my web site last night and left me an email to let me know. Thank you, Beth, for taking the time to tell me of this. She let me know in the email that she attended one of his workshops in Maine.
The great thing about Sovek was his deep love for painting, and more specifically for color. I've learned more about color and its use through his books and his artwork than through anyone else.
When I started painting, I visited a couple of forums and read one person's glowing review of him and so I checked out his web site. I loved his artwork and I bought a few of his books, which are exceptional. Sovek not only signed each book that he sent me, but he also sent me postcards, each featuring a painting of his.
So, on this Father's Day, I give great respect to Charles Sovek, a father to many artists who grooved on his passion for painting.
I went and bought me a 1" filbert brush (see right) the other day on a bike ride to Michael's, where I buy most of my non-paint supplies. They have a good selection and it's sufficient for my needs. (For what it's worth, I buy my Golden acrylic paint from Mister Art.)
I went onto the back deck today and set up shop and started working on the Poolside painting again.
I feel light and airy and I have no clue what I'm doing. But I am having fun, and that's more important than anything else.
ETC: A bit later, I have more of it done. Painting this large is a different style of painting and I'm having to adjust quite a bit, so it feels like I'm groping around in the dark.
Tamara made a wonderful steak with mashed potatoes, and so we all ate out by the swing in the backyard.
I love my family. I thank God every day for my wife and children.
Once a week, I hope to interview someone with a unique perspective on listening. The first person I chose to interview was Mike Sansone, a global blog and business coach who is based here in Des Moines, Iowa. We met at Mike's remote office, a Panera, where Mike is renowned to hold meetings.
If I could encapsulate in a single sentence Mike's wisdom about listening, it's that listening can't happen without humility. There's an openness, a willingness to "begin with the beginner's mind" that's necessary to listening well.
Brett: So who's the best listener you know? Mike: That's a good question... Brett: Or, who's a good listener you know that you would think of? Mike: You know, I think of Drew McLellan. Brett: Okay. Why Drew? Mike: He pauses between what is said to him and his response, there's a pause. So even if he thinks it's baloney, the speaker says, "He's pondering. He listened." So I think of Drew McLellan. Brett: So his pauses show you that he's listening. Mike: By his activity, he listens. Other than that, except for other people in the room right now, I can't think of anyone. Brett: Okay. What about companies... what companies do you think listen really well? Mike: I think HyVee [a local grocery chain] listens. Brett: Really? Mike: Yeah. Brett: I think I'd go along with that. Why HyVee? Mike: Well, I think HyVee listens on the short-term and the long-term. I've seen - not experienced so much as I've seen - and heard other customers talk about instances but I also changes made to their operation based on what's said to them. You know, there's a new product, can you get it?
I think this one's gonna surprise... I think MediaCom listens. I don't know if they have the ability to act, but they've proven that they listen.
I think Best Buy does a great job of listening.
I think GoDaddy does a great job of listening. It's almost pre-listening. GoDaddy looks at whatever a customer's history is, and almost - what's the word I'm trying to think of - they almost anticipate what their customers are going to need and listen to that anticipation. So they're listening with their gut. They're listening with their experience. And then they reach out to the customer and say, "We've noticed this - we're listening. Tell us what you want. So if you have a domain name or if you only have one email and it's getting overloaded, they'll call you up and say, "You're kind of pushing the limit. You want to do something about it? And if so, what?" So I think they listen. Brett: Gotcha. So like the notices that I get from GoDaddy where they say, "This domain's about to expire. Do you really want that?" Mike: Exactly. And they call you too. Brett: Yeah - I've been called in the past. Mike: So I think they're anticipating and it's really an active listening. It's a pro-active listening. Brett: It is. Okay, I agree with HyVee too because HyVee, when I've gone in there, they always ask me at the checkout, "Did you find everything you needed today?" Now Dahl's [another local grocery chain] does the same thing, but if I tell them, "No," they'll say, "Oh - well, what did you miss?" [and if I explain that] I couldn't find it in the store, [they say], "Oh, you know, we don't carry that."
But if HyVee does that, HyVee will say, "Well, hold on - let me get a manager." And then Joe the manager will come over and he'll say, "Hey, let me order that for you. I'll call you when it comes in. Let me take your number." Mike: Exactly. You know, you just reminded me of a story. First time I went in HyVee here, I said, "Do you carry bread pudding?" The lady said, "No, but I have a great recipe. Can I make some for you?" Three days later, she called me at home and had bread pudding. Brett: Was it good? Mike: Yeah! Brett: Ah... dynamite. Mike: They didn't even sell it. I forgot all about that. I gotta blog about that. Brett: That's great service. So how does Best Buy listen? Mike: Well, first of all, they listen to the blogosphere. Anytime there's a complaint about Best Buy, they know. Brett: Really? Mike: And then they proactively - depending on the influence of the voice and the legitimacy of the complaint - they will try to correct things. They'll do whatever it takes. Brett: Gotcha. Mike: So that's one way they listen. I think they also listen to their customers before they became customers. They heard people complain about getting things at CompUSA and other commission-based stores, and the customers would feel that they got taken. But Best Buy doesn't have commission-based pay, and I think that enables them to listen because there are no dollar signs in their ears. Brett: Alright. I know that you have, on occasion, talked about companies that didn't perform as you would have expected in terms of customer service. And there've been times when that's happened, and you've been able to have the company listen to you. Like I know that Panera's reached out to you on a couple of occasions and that they've actually engaged you. And so you felt like they were listening when they did that. Right? Mike: Yeah, eventually if you speak loud enough, people are going to listen. Brett: Do you have an example, or would you be willing to share an example, of a company didn't listen well? Or where you tried to engage them, to help them, teach them, whatever the reason, and they weren't open to it at all? Mike: Yeah. Borders. Brett: How so? Mike: Really, Borders had a large loss because they wouldn't listen. A conversation took place on an instance - and I hate basing whole things on instances - but there was an instance and they didn't listen, and so I wrote a note to the management explaining the larger picture. And they asked some questions. And I answered their questions about how it was a dissatisfying experience and how it might cost them X amount of dollars a month, which was way up there. Brett: Yeah... Mike: And they said, "Well, can we use your letter in training?" And I said, "Yours? Or your employees?" Because frankly, they didn't hear me. I was saying, "You're about to lose a customer." And their sole purpose for their call seemed to be, "Can we train our employees on this letter?" And my reaction was, "Are you not listening to me now?" Because I'm still saying, "You're about to lose a customer and all your goal for this call is just to be able to use this letter without being able to save the customer." Brett: Not trying to make you happy at all... Mike: Then I told them, "Here's what I spend - I even wrote them the numbers - here's what I spend at Borders per month. Here's what I spend at Amazon per month." Just in case you didn't know, they're both the same. And that's a lot of money per month. I haven't bought anything from either place since. Because they didn't listen. Brett: Hmm... Mike: Here's my take: what happens if they have another problem. Are they gonna listen? Where at Panera - I'm married to Panera - there've been challenges, there've been arguments- Brett: But you worked it out. Mike: But we worked it out. One of us took the high road, and we hug, and we break bread together. And we always will. I know what the result is going to be the next time we have a problem. Brett: So how do you get through to the upper levels of a company? Do you find that it's the employee who takes ownership of it and moves it upward for you, or do you find that it's just you being persistent and loud? Where you're like, "Let me speak to your manager? Let me speak to [the next] manager. Let me speak to [the next] manager..." Mike: No, caring for others the way we do, I understand on the other side of that complaint is another human being. So I never try to get loud, unless that person was the one to blame. Brett: I'm not suggesting you're offensive. Mike: No no, but if there's a defense up, loud is not going to go through the defense. You've either got to touch the fringe and do an end-around, or you've got to drop it.
How do you get to management if it's a listening company? Brett: Mmm-hmm... Mike: I don't... the customer doesn't have to train them to listen. The listening company will already- Brett: Gotcha. It's already in there. Mike: Well, either that or they will recognize the loss of customership. They will recognize the void. They will hear it from the fringe. What I mean by that is, rather than listen to the customer, they may hear it from a different touch point. A vendor that they use, you know. It will be a trusted third-party delivering a message. Brett: Because in a large company it's not usually the management you're interacting with. So is it more the case then that they have to have a culture where there's listening? Mike: Absolutely a culture, and I think a Nordstrom... you hear stories- Brett: Nordie stories all the time. Mike: Oh! Sometimes I think it's their PR department, but then I hear from people... you know, it's, yeah, it's amazing. Maybe it's their form of not listening, but they have one goal - satisfy the customer - whatever. It's part of their culture, it's well-trained. Everybody sings from that book. By the same token, it's gotta be a listening culture. Brett: Do you think technology helps people listen? Mike: I think it can. Brett: Give me examples. Mike: Well, the blogosphere and RSS feeds. An absolute must. Everyone's a content publisher. The blogs, you can dump your brain. We can vent. We can applaud. But basically it's a brain dump. It's a memory archiver. It's a venting agent. And if companies are not listening actively to the blogosphere and engaging that brain dump, they're gonna lose their customers. By the same token, voicemail, speed of call, I mean, when you call a big company, a national company, and it says we're too busy, your average waiting time is 18 minutes, and you get your bill and you see that they raised rates, why? So I could wait 16 minutes? They have to put the pieces in place to listen now. Brett: Okay. What's an example of how technology hurts listening? Mike: Laziness. Brett: Really? Mike: Yeah. I think we rely on the technology of the automated answering machine. Push 1 if you want to speak English, 2 if you want to speak Spanish. Push 3 if you want to do this, push 8 if you want to do this - 18 minutes later, now we have to wait 5 minutes for a human being. The voice recognition, however, is good. Sprint does this. "Hi, welcome to Sprint. Please enunciate clearly and tell us what your question is." At least I'm talking. I'm taking an action with my body and brain. I'm sitting here going like this [holding up fingers] counting on my fingers, figuring out which option I want. And then I gotta replay because I had to wave at somebody. Brett: Yeah. I think the best one for me is 2... or was it 3? Oh crap. Mike: Companies expect their companies to listen. Get this... I go into a store the first time. "Hi. Can I have a blank?" "No, we don't have any of those." "Oh, are you going to have them?" "No, we've never carried them," with an attitude. And I want to say, "Oh, this is my first day working here. You've been here for a little while. You've been trained. I haven't." Brett: Right. Mike: It's not the customer's job to listen. They should, but it's not the customer's job to listen. Brett: That's a really good point. Mike: When I was in the property management business- Brett: Do you think that with marketing we try to insist that the customer listen? Or make them listen? Mike: Yeah. Absolutely. It's the culture too. It's the culture hierarchy. Like Panera... we'll take Panera as an example. Panera tells the young person who's working here, "Here's the process. The process is what keeps us going." And the person at cash register number two is told never to leave the station with the cash register unattended. So a customer comes up and goes up to cash register number one - because that's over in the bakery - and cash register number two is standing over there with the person saying nothing - waiting for the customer to come down here where he was told to wait. And the customer's over at the bakery saying, "Can I get some help?""No, I'm only open down here." Brett: Right. Mike: The customer didn't know that. But the young person working behind the cash register wasn't told that you should go to the customer and lead them. You see we don't lead the way unless we expect instant followership. Brett: Okay. I was going to ask you, so when you work with businesses, you work with a lot of different businesses, I would assume that some of your coaching that you do with business is to help them listen better. Mike: Yes. Brett: How do you do that? Mike: Well, first I have to listen to what they want, what their goal is. Brett: Okay. Mike: And then I ask how they can get their customer to assist them. So it's almost like, okay, your customer is your boss. Listen to them. Be trained by your customer. Don't be in such a hurry to talk. Everybody wants to post on a blog - those who decide, okay, I want to blog. And I want to blog today. And they want to know when they're going to get someone buying their product from their blog. Should have been blogging six months ago. The first step is "Go read other blogs." "Oh, but I don't have time to read other blogs." "Then why will anybody have time to read yours?"
You gotta listen first.
In foreign cultures, and I say foreign meaning cultures that actually understand what listening's all about - Paris, Mexico, Italy - the old countries. You go up to a conversation... you kind of hunker down. Listen for a while. And you'd be acknowledged, your presence. And then you'd clear your throat and say a little bitty thing. And people nod their head and now there's acceptance, and then pretty soon, you're part of the conversation. But if you came up and said, "Yadda yadda yadda - here's my opinion" right when you got there, that crowd would break up and lose you. And too many companies are trying to do that today in the blogosphere. Be in the marketplace - by the way, that's the same thing. You know, so there's gotta be a relationship. And the best way to build a relationship is to listen first. Brett: Okay... so you teach people to listen better by first teaching them that they have to not say anything for a while, because one of the things that you do is you tell them, you know, "Go ahead and blog, but do it privately, not publicly, for thirty days." Mike: Right. Brett: In the meantime, let's build up your feeds. How do you help them determine what it is that they should be listening to? Mike: That's a good question. Let me answer that question, but can I add on to that? Brett: Absolutely. Mike: When we're kids, we emulate. The most popular saying for a toddler is "No." Why? Because that's pretty much the only word they've listened to for the last six months. "No." Right? Brett: Yeah. Mike: "Time to go to bed, Johnnie." "No." Mom gets all mad that Johnnie keeps saying, "No" - where'd he learn that from? Hello? Because every other word you said, "No." When we're growing up as human beings, we learn by listening. In fact, we copy what we hear. Which is probably why we read what we already sort of agree with. Anyway, that's another recording... as far as learning what to listen to, it has to be somebody with some influence. You know, what do you listen to? What's important to you? What is your goal? Second, what is your customer's goal? Are we talking blogosphere now? I can't get the blogosphere out of my head. Brett: It doesn't matter. Mike: You gotta listen. You really gotta listen. You gotta listen to what people are saying or writing - not only about you, but about your competition, about the industry, about anything. You know, if I'm a car dealer, I want to know why that customer hated that restaurant. Because you know what? I have a fast-food desk called "Parts." What can I learn from that? Brett: Okay. You mentioned Drew McLellan being a great example. Do you think the reason he's successful in marketing is because he does listen well? Mike: Absolutely. Brett: Yeah? Mike: And he'll tell you that. If you don't listen to your customer, how do you know what to say? Brett: Right. Mike: If you don't know what's valuable to your customer, all you're doing is preaching. And what if that's not what they want? If I'm selling peanut butter and jelly... what if my customers want peanut butter and chocolate? Maybe I should get out of the jelly business. Brett: Have it your way. Mike: That's right. Either that or go preach to a different audience - the one that loves peanut butter and jelly. But why am I going to spend $10,000 on a full-page ad to a peanut butter and chocolate culture if I'm peanut butter and jelly? The only way you learn that is by listening. Brett: I agree with that. Mike: And marketers aren't liars; the customers are liars. But if the customers are the liars, listen to what they're lying about. Brett: So what tips would you give to people to learn to listen better? Mike: Know that you can learn anything from anybody all the time. Begin with the beginners mindset every time out. Get off your pedestal - you're gonna get a nosebleed. Brett: Aren't you teaching humility? Mike: Yeah! That's very well-listened. Brett: Thank you :) Mike: Really, that's it at a core. I mean, I can learn - there's a four-year-old kid here. I learned from him today. Brett: Anybody, anywhere, all the time. Mike: Anybody, anywhere, all the time. Whether it be a practice, a look, an innocence. I mean, kids are great because kids are so totally, brutally honest. We don't listen to kids - and I don't mean in the educational sense. Go to a mall and watch kids interact. Kids will be [playing] - all about self, until their peers come along. And then, they're totally different people. Do we do that as adults? And then you realize, "Yes!" Brett: Yeah, we do. Mike: And you're listening with your eyes at that point. And then all of a sudden the kid stands up straighter and you can see him - where do we get that from? It's very unlike the "No," because they emulate that. Or watching a kid watching the escalator, trying to figure it out. He's got a beginner's mindset. But now we're big companies and have RSS feeds and we don't want to figure it out. Brett: We're there. Mike: We stop listening. We're 65 years-old. Brett: Look at our brand! Mike: That's right. I've been in business 120 years, and I'm 65, myself. I don't need to learn anything. Brett: We'll tell you. Mike: Right. Exactly. And I say, "Hey - you want a Kleenex for that nosebleed you're about to get?" Brett: I was going to ask you - how is it that Des Moines is getting well-known for being a really aggressive business community, or at least there's lots of ideas. Because when I was looking at the top marketing blogs, two of the twenty are here in Des Moines. Mike: Well, I think number one, there's a void. Or a perceived void. I think the climate is right because there's availability. I think the climate- Brett: A void where? I'm missing that. Mike: There's a perceived void that we don't have enough of certain types of businesses here in Iowa. Okay? I believe it's only a perception. And I think it's everywhere. San Jose probably thinks, "We need more of certain businesses. We need to attract businesses to San Jose." I think there's a certain sector of people who realize that Iowa does not have borders that are impassable. Brett: No fences. Mike: Right - no fences. "Buy into the Circle" is a great saying. You know what? Sell into the circle is a reality. But it's reality happening outside our circle. In other words, businesses outside this "Buy into the Circle" are selling inside of our circle. Lamoni - the pizza guy goes and gets a haircut from the Lamoni haircuttery, who goes and buys a prescription from the village drug, who goes to Amazon - uh oh, there's goes our money. So there's money exiting [the circle]. There are some businesses like the top twenty marketing blogs that you see who say, "We need to start selling outside of our circle." And those are the companies that are growing globally. I am in Iowa doing business globally. Why? Because it's easy with the tools available to us. There are still Iowans who say, "YouTube's a great idea. Nobody in Iowa is doing that." Which is a false thing. They're not listening. There is somebody in Iowa doing that. It's called YouTube. It's a global business. Brett: It is a global business. Mike: And Iowa is part of the globe. Brett: Okay. The last question I have for you- Mike: Why do I talk so much? Brett: Not at all. I love it when you talk. I wanted to know who the next person I should interview is - who's a blogger - who's good at those skills. I'm gonna guess who it is based on that I've heard the person's name a couple of times. Mike: I've already said Drew McLellan so I don't want to say it again. I don't get paid enough. Brett: We'll talk to Drew about that. Mike: I think I'd like to be profound. I think Doug Mitchell. Have you met Doug Mitchell? Brett: Yeah. Mike: I think Doug Mitchell would be a good one to talk to because he's got a totally different perspective. Brett: Okay. Mike: Mike Calwell. Brett: Who's that? Mike: The person in charge of business acceleration at the Des Moines Partnership. I should introduce you two. In fact, we're thinking about doing a business roundtable discussion and podcasting it. You have to be a part of that. Brett: Okay. Well, let me know when that is. Mike: He's a listener, not just to conversation, but trend. To... yeah, to trends, really. He's a complete listener, a universal listener. He's a business whisperer...
Karen E. Klein writes for the BusinessWeek Smart Answers column and insists that listening improves business. Your company might be listening to your customers, but if people don't believe that you're truly listening, you'll lose them. She says:
Despite the fact that many companies tout their focus on service, the research we did showed that overall customer satisfaction is declining. A global benchmarking study we looked at showed a reduction in customer service satisfaction from 82% to 68% in the last year alone.
Additional studies show that 68% of customers leave a business relationship because of a perceived attitude of indifference on the part of the company. It's not that the associates are actually indifferent - it's the perception that they are.
So a customer may get what she needs from the company, but if it was delivered with indifference, that interaction still won't leave a positive impression.
Indifference as a business experience is a business killer.
More than ever, showing customers that they matter to your company is not just an extra - it's vital.
Continuing my Listen Well series, I recently interviewed Doug Mitchell, a successful guy who likes working at startup companies. Doug had some keen insight into listening, and his chief point is this: to listen well, you really need to suspend yourself and see it from the other person's perspective. We also talk a bit about the struggle to listen well while multitasking - no easy feat.
You can read the rest of what Doug had to say below, or you can listen to it. Panera is in the background.
Brett: Hi Doug. Doug: Hello! Brett: I'm here with Doug Mitchell, who has his own blog. And he is a vice-president of a company and he is working remotely a lot of the time. He works with a lot of different dealerships. And Mike Sansone handed Doug off to me and said Doug would be a great person to talk to about listening so I'm talking to you today. Doug: Great. Sounds good! Brett: So, you have an interesting job. You don't work in an office like everyone else does. Doug: That's exactly right. I work at my home office and I share time with various coffee house offices around the Des Moines metro. Brett: Such as Panera, where we are. Doug: That's right. Brett: So, what is it you do in your company? Doug: I manage a relationship between our company and - specifically - Caterpillar, as in the tractor company, and their 50-some-odd North American dealer network. I handle all aspects of that, whether it's getting the resources to manage that relationship in terms of marketing, whether it's telling our company back at the office to write software code to make something work better - and what we provide them with is a solution, a dispatching or transportation-style solution that helps them run their businesses more efficiently. Brett: Gotcha. So, what's your background? How'd you get into this? Doug: My background is mostly technology, mostly software, but not from a technical point of view - mostly from a marketing business development point of view. Brett: Okay. Doug: I started right out of school in 1994 with a computer memory manufacturing company, progressed through the sales ranks, so I started to understand the technology industry - the bigger picture - and I kind of grew out of that sales job. Went to work at AT&T for a while, got to understand a little more of the Internet side of things. So then, got bored, didn't enjoy corporate America any more, didn't want to climb the ladder for the next 15 years, so I jumped ship and started with a software startup company that told me that we have one month of salary to pay you. If you can write a business plan and we can get funding, you'll have a job. And if not, probably you won't. Brett: Okay. Doug: So, these guys I had known before, but it was a very good relationship and we put our heads down and we wrote a business plan and we got the funding and within about 45 days we had a million bucks in the bank, which was amazing back then. Brett: Wow, yeah. Doug: We launched that company, and grew it up, and got it sold off to CNET, the online marketing company. They bought that and another one that we had sort of launched in parallel. So, very exciting. That's how I came to love the startup environment. Brett: Right. So, how did you get from there to the current position that you're in today? Doug: After the companies were sold, back in California, where I lived, that when those two companies were sold, I spent about 6 months thinking about "Hmm... what should I do next?" That was some of the most enjoyable time I've ever had. I golfed about 5 times a week and said, "What should I do?" Ultimately, I couldn't figure it out. I said, "I don't want to jump right back into something." So actually, what I did, this is something that I've written once about it, I took a job as a store manager of a Starbucks right in my town. Brett: Really? Doug: I spent about a year doing that. I connected with my community, I met all kinds of - the same kind of community you would have here [waving at Panera, where we sat]. I met people in international business, people that worked at home. Of course, they came and worked there [at the Starbucks]. And I actually almost launched a company with some of the guys as funding - you know, it was fantastic. And we can talk about that any time you want. That was a great opportunity to just learn about - I mean, it was a high-volume store with 25 employees, so it was fantastic. I kind of grew tired of that. It was a short-term thing, and I was going to move from California to somewhere, either where family or friends were located - that's what my wife's stipulations were. So, we were about to list the house when Dispatching Solutions, my current employer, they called me up. I had known in a previous relationship, had done a little bit of work for them. They said, "We're ready to take this company up and grow it bigger. Do you want to give it a shot?" I said, "Well, I'll give it a try, but I'm gonna move at some point, and I just want you to be prepared for that." They said okay, fine, let's just do this. So we did, and I did, about two years ago now in October. We came here from southern California. Moved here by choice. We stayed away from the places where family are located - not because we didn't want to be near family, but because the areas weren't too exciting. And we had very good friends that were born here, moved here to the Des Moines Metro, and we visited and absolutely loved it. We chose here. That's how I ended up working remotely for Dispatching Solutions and living in Des Moines and loved it. Brett: So you're a husband, you're a father, you've been part of a startup company as an employee, you've been a manager with a Starbucks, and you're a VP today. Across all of those experiences, how would you define listening? Doug: Listening is probably best described as coming into a two-way conversation and suspending what your brain is telling you to say. Brett: Okay. Doug: It's the best way I can think to describe [it]. I especially had to do this in the Starbucks environment. Brett: I was going to ask you more about that. Doug: Oh yeah. Brett: Because it's rapid- Doug: You have not only 25 youthful employees - ask anyone who's done retail and the issues are the same and they're always drama - and you have to take off your "I have so much more experience than you" hat to really understand what's going on Brett: Connect with them. Doug: Yeah, to really connect with them. And the same thing with your customers. To come out, sit down and have a face-to-face and really connect with people as part of Starbucks culture, and it's something that I enjoyed thoroughly. I wish Starbucks was setup to give managers more time to do that. That's a different conversation. Brett: So Starbucks [as a company] didn't really help you understand how to listen better, it's something you had to figure out on your own? Doug: It's something that I think I had half of a clue at, but if I didn't listen appropriately and I had - these conversations would always end the same way... it would be somebody telling me why this and that were wrong and me saying, "Well, you don't understand. Here's the reality: boom boom boom." And it didn't really solve anything. Brett: Right. Doug: And in a team environment, especially among various managers and then a district manager, there was just, um - the company at that level fostered more of that environment where they would actually... I mean, they would do a lot of training with the upper level managers. Brett: Uh huh. Doug: And so I think a lot of that stuff filtered. I didn't receive much direct training in that listening, but I think it filtered down. When you saw the results and you had the kind of conversation where you were engaged and you did suspend the urge to go, "Yeah, but you don't... but you're not... what you're not getting is..." Just shut that off, and then you found new things that really helped you connect with those people to help them do better at their job, to help them do better for you, and to make it more fulfilling for you, and stick around longer because, after all, the lifespan of somebody at a retail operation is 3 to 6 months. Brett: Right, right. So what happens when you suspend yourself, so to speak, when you sit down your own thoughts... what happens, then, that allows you to receive somebody else, do you think? Doug: It takes off the filters. It helps you to appreciate what that person might be going through. It helps them drop their barrier of communication - if they're experiencing things at home or here or past experiences, you know. That all comes in when you're sitting face-to-face with somebody. It's really an amalgam of everything that you've ever experienced. If you've always had really tough situations communicating face-to-face, then you're bringing that to the table. And I know that - I wouldn't say I wasn't tough about stuff like that, but I was very much willing - I would bring myself to the table, waiting for you to say the right thing so I can shut it off. Brett: "Here's my opportunity!" Boom! Doug: Exactly. So taking those things down really gives you the opportunity to understand the person, to get inside their head, to really help them progress as an employee and as a person. It's very helpful. Brett: Now, as a dad, how have you found - especially with little ones like that - how have you found listening to work for you? Doug: Wow. That's probably the most challenging thing ever. The part about being - it's easy enough to listen to your kids and to hear what they're saying and sort of treat that part... I think the hardest thing is that, in the mix, is your wife. And so the kids, and the wife, and then you have yourself - there's this communication triangle. You know, you get so used to automatic response with your kids, just "I want to..." [and you say] "Wait. Wait." And you find those things entering into your relationship with your spouse - at least I did. I still do. I fight it all the time. So being able to get rid of that and actually treat your wife - this is what I heard one time - treat your spouse like your best customer, or like somebody - you're really trying to win them over. Listen to them that way. Brett: Like something that won't take them for granted. Doug: Exactly. That's exactly right. And man is it tough when you're busy with life, busy with the kids, when they're screaming and you're "Yeah, yeah." I find myself not even looking when my wife is at the home office. [Makes typing gestures] And I'll be typing away. I don't even know what you said, but she'll get a text message to me about five minutes after she leaves recapping the conversation because she knows that I missed it and I wasn't listening. Brett: So she's learned how to read you to know when you're really listening. Doug: Right. Brett: What cue does she know to look for when you're on or off? Keep in mind - she's gonna read this interview [wink]. Doug: That's fine [grinning]. It's when I actually stop and look at her and make some kind of eye contact, you know. And I stop what I'm doing. And we're usually just like ants at an ant farm at the house. If I actually stop - it helps to make contact. Same with the kids. Put a hand on a shoulder or something like that, to actually say, "I'm here and I'm engaged in the moment." Tough to do, tough to remember, but I think that's critical. It really helps me. Brett: Right, I get that. Being married myself, I understand that completely. You've got to disconnect like that and make sure that you connect with them, right? Whatever you're doing, you have to disengage. You know, something that I believe is that multitasking is the complete enemy of listening. Doug: That's exactly right. Brett: You're multitasking big time, because you're juggling the relationship - I'm assuming that you're working with some employees. Doug: Right. Brett: So how do you manage multitasking and listening? Doug: Man. I try to get better at it every day, but I mean I think multitasking as a concept is totally flawed. I mean, it is possible, but what that really means is that I'm doing a lot of things moderately well in most cases. Brett: Sure Doug: What you want to get done and what you need to get done will actually happen the right way, but email, reading blogs to stay up on your industry, what have you - interacting with customers, clients, managing the employees - all of this remotely in my case - talking to them about marketing materials, whatever... it takes discipline, I think, to be less active in terms of these information management needs. I think you become better by doing less. I mean, less is more. I believe that. I think we should hone down what we do. Limit our saying yes to everything. The more you can say "No," the better. Brett: Right. Doug: And I don't mean that negatively, of course. Brett: No, no. Doug: It's purely a resource dispersal tactic. Brett: Right. Something that - a concept that I like is that there's a To-Do List; there's also a To-Don't List. Usually, the To-Don't List is more important than the To-Do List. Doug: Exactly. That's exactly right. I mean, multitasking is a reality, especially when you work at home. We've trained the kids. They can look through the glass in the door, and they can knock, and if Daddy goes "No" - I wave my hand "No" - they simply walk away. They're really good about it. But all in all, when you're at home, and you come out, and you have this question and that question and you're trying to get in the zone of a project, it's very difficult to break away from that stuff to become a good listener. It's almost like you need to schedule time to be a good listener. Brett: Right. Because you have to make sure that you have nothing else on your plate to devote yourself to the activity. Doug: Yeah. Brett: Which then brings me to the next thing, your customer relationships. You manage how many different customers? I know Caterpillar, right, but you deal with all the dealerships. Doug: Yeah. Brett: And how many of them are there? Doug: There are approximately 55-ish. 55, 57 - depending on who's buying who this week. There's about 55 dealerships, and then there's the corporate entity in Peoria. Then I guess you could say that my duties beyond that extend into other enterprise clients, which one of them is a top-five heavy equipment manufacturer kind of coming online with us. It's mainly the large dollar enterprise-level clients that I talk to and they're all over the United States, so far. Sometime in the near future we might have Canada, we might have Latin America, we might have one or two in Europe. So things could really heat up at that point in terms of listening and communication. Brett: So I would assume that most of your conversation is either email or your conversation is either phone, right? Doug: It's probably 80 to 90% email. Which I'm a huge fan. Maybe not what you're supposed to do. I love the written word because I feel as though people that read my emails understand very clearly. I think I'm a reasonably good writer so that people get it. They get it. There's not a lot of fluff. It's done in a way that's forceful but appropriate. You know what I'm saying? Brett: Yeah. Doug: It really works. And on the phone, I don't like tracking people down and I can't stand getting to voice mail. Brett: So how do you show that you're listening via email? Doug: Thoughtful response, that if you read an email from me, I believe - especially in those corporate ones where you're really answering key questions - that I've listened, I've understood, and that I know exactly what I'm talking about when I'm writing it. And I elaborate enough and I give it the attention that I would give in a phone call. In fact, probably more because I'm able to actually read through the words that I've written and dissect them again to make sure that I- Brett: That the meaning is right. Doug: Yeah. Is that word the appropriate word to use? Should we use robust, or should we use this word instead? You know, so I spend probably longer than most people writing just an email back, answering the question. Brett: How do you do that by phone? Doug: By phone? You know, when I have a conversation in my business most of it is - well, a lot of it is centered around when companies, Caterpillar dealerships, are interested in what we have to offer. I usually interact with either dealer principals or sort of the highest end person - owners - or Six Sigma black belts. Are you familiar with Six Sigma? Brett: I am, yes. Doug: Okay, so I am a Caterpillar-trained Six Sigma black belt because we used to get phone calls, "Hi. I'm doing a project on transportation. We're trying to reduce expense. I'm a Six Sigma black belt." And we'd say, "Excuse me? You're a karate expert? Why are you calling?" Well, we quickly figured out that Caterpillar is absolutely dedicated to the process of Six Sigma and saved billions of dollars and all of these great things. We actually took it upon ourselves to become, at the time, a twelve-person software company that was Six Sigma - boom. I went through the training, became the black belt at our company, so I have to have these interactions with folks who are very smart. They've analyzed the process. Most of them aren't like me. Most are typically more statistical in nature or numbers in nature. And they really tend to know what they're talking about - they're excited by statistics - whereas for me, it just mortifies me and I could care less. I always said, "I'm never gonna have to use this again in my life," when I was taking it in college, and I'm pretty much right - because I used it in Six Sigma training, but I don't do that any more. Now, I leave it to somebody else. So these conversations on the phone are about details and numbers and very "We've analyzed the business process" to the point where they have a fantastic process, chart, and this and that. So, you know if I'm not really clear on what our system can do and what the points in the process where we can interact, and blah blah blah, and if I'm not just on the same page as them, things completely blow up. I try to use the right words and the right context to match - if it's even possible to mirror the behavior of someone on the phone, I guess. I try to do that on the phone. Brett: So getting back to what you first said when I asked you to define listening, you said listening is kind of suspending yourself and putting yourself in the other person's perspective and on the phone then you want to try and look at it from their point of view. Doug: Exactly. Brett: And get to that level. Doug: Exactly. And that comes from doing your homework, you know? If I thought about the expert - I'll remember as we talk - but one of these gurus in some area talks about "preparation, preparation, preparation." Of course, it works for everything, but if you know about your business, their business, you know the key issues and you've done that kind of research that it's easy to model somebody else if you have, you know, half of a clue in terms of trying to put the pieces together so that they understand it. And so that's what I do. We tend to know as much or more about the pain that people go through and when you can accurately connect with them on that pain level- Brett: You can solve problems. Doug: It's almost like a sales tool. I guess it is. Brett: Right. Doug: I'm usually trying to say, "Look, we have something that solves your problems. Whether you do it now or not is really insignificant. Eventually though, you're gonna want to do something like this..." you know, and then "Yes, yes," and we can get that kind of agreement on the phone or in person. Brett: So, Six Sigma being a process improvement practice - a lot of businesses use that. And I've heard Six Sigma called everything from "the salvation of our business"- Doug: To a complete waste of time? Brett: To a complete waste of time and it has totally killed the innovation in our company. Doug: Agreed. Brett: So I wanted to ask you then, does Six Sigma help or hurt the listening that needs to go on in a company? Doug: The proper answer to that question is "Yes" - to both. Brett: Now why is that the proper answer? Doug: It does both and it depends on organization, the culture. Most people, when they deploy Six Sigma - well, I don't know about most - let me put it this way... in many situations it's done when somebody up at the top says, "We must do this." And if they are like in Caterpillar's organization where they say, pretty much, you have to. Culturally, ready or not, here we come. As a choice, if the company is adopting it and the says, "We're doing Six Sigma so get used to this culture," they don't really address - there's tons of naysayers and the people who will poo-poo the process the entire way... the saboteurs? Brett: Sure. Doug: They don't listen closely enough to what's happening at that ground, trench level to get that out of the mix and reinforce and then bring them into the fold because without the culture change, Six Sigma will not work. Especially if certain people at high levels are saying, "Let's just do that project and just kind of make the numbers work out right, but we really know right here in our gut what the truth is, don't we? Yeah." That happens all the time. So you get companies that adopt it, but not wholeheartedly. You get companies that say, "That sounds great!" at the top, but then they don't reinforce it at any other level. And then you get the companies where they are so focused on Six Sigma - and remember, in Six Sigma you want to narrow your project scope to something manageable. Well what have you done in many cases? You've put on blinders- Brett: "This is what we're doing." Doug: Mmm-hmm... and I'm only going to look at the problem and they miss the root cause. Because they're not listening. There's a guy over here saying, "Look, you know, really we have a company-wide issue here and it's called 'not training our people to do the right thing in this area.'" You want to solve that by your little segment buying, say, GPS to track your vehicles, or something like that. That's not the solution. The solution is much larger in scope. You almost need two layers in the Six Sigma process to make it work. So it's great and it's detrimental depending on the company and depending on the leadership and how they listen to what's happening down below. Brett: Now you've probably had it be the case before where you've embarked on a project and you found out part way through that you're really headed down the wrong direction. You learn that you're headed down the wrong direction really by listening. By paying attention to feedback by somebody or looking at how it's working. How do you derail everybody to get everybody to listen to you now to understand your perspective that we need to change our path or we're going to fail? Doug: Yeah, well, that's interesting. I'd say the way to do it is to have a good foundation with the team to begin with. You know, first of all, you build a team of green belts, or the semi-trained but not fully trained in the statistical methodology folks who are sort of indoctrinated. They understand it. They've been given minor introductions. They're on board. But those people have another set, exponentially, of people that they deal with and talk to. So the stakeholders, outside, it's all about how your relationship is with the team and how you're getting that communication out to those stakeholders that when you need to change, if they don't understand or they don't understand why - "This has all been wasted" - that doesn't get back appropriately through those stakeholder communication channels, etc, you know, you've lost. You've really lost. You've lost your team, you've lost your focus, you've lost all - and then, oh man, here we go again. Another Six Sigma thing totally [wasted]. And you know, a lot of this comes from early communication about what the problems are in the first place. You know, you can do a lot of good project filtering by really looking at the entire business and - again - it's always going to come back to that communication and that listening. Really understanding why a division is doing poorly, or why it costs so much to do transportation. Asking the right questions, listening appropriately, and you can usually narrow down those things so that that doesn't happen. But if you do have to change, you just have to have clear channels and give them the tools to communicate out to those other stakeholders and then you'd be good. Brett: And again, email is probably a really good tool with that because you can be completely clear with your thoughts. Doug: Yeah, and there's a record. Brett: It's a CYA move! Doug: Very much so. But what I prefer, which most companies have not adopted, is collaboration software. Brett: Hmm. What do you use? Doug: I use Central Desktop. The first startup that I mentioned a while back? Those guys went on to create this other company called Central Desktop. It's like, if you've used Base Camp, this is like Base Camp, but it's much more applicable in a corporate environment. It's very powerful and still very inexpensive and fantastic... anyway, the bottom line is if I can say something once and have it be in that record, it acts - there's Wiki, there's RSS feeds of the project collaboration site, there's discussions... it's fantastic. I prefer to use that on projects. Brett: That sounds like a great enterprise web 2.0 tool. Doug: Big time. Big time. Brett: I'll have to check that out. We've been looking for that also. Doug: Yeah. It's, in my opinion, the best. Brett: Well, you use it. Doug: Absolutely. I have probably 48 different project workspaces that I use and, you know, individual collaboration with external people, internal people. We use it for our corporate Intranet... it's fantastic. Brett : Alright. Well, we're about at the end here, but I wanted to ask you the Big Question that I told you I would ask you. We've talked all about listening. We've talked about relationships, how you show that you're listening, how it is that you go ahead and communicate better so that you can get others to listen. You do have a great perspective, and when Mike introduced me to you, he said, "Hey, talk to Doug. He'd have a great take on this." I had no idea what I was getting into, but really, it's good stuff. So I wanted to ask you: who would you pass this off to who's a blogger? Or somebody who's not a blogger who would have a really interesting perspective on this who you think might add to the conversation? Doug: Sure. I think, especially locally, I don't know if he's been recommended to you before, but do you know Cory Garrison from REL? Brett: I'm aware of who he is, yes. I read his blog. I subscribe to that and yours also. Doug: Yeah. I think he would be a great one because his company, they're all about listening to what you have to say about your company to figure out your brand. Their brand discernment process. And I've had numerous meetings with them and I think they really get it. So, they get you in a room - I haven't done it yet, but I can tell. And I've had one-off meetings as well. So, I think you'd get a tremendous value out of that because that's what they do. Brett: Okay. Doug: They listen, and figure out how to embody what your company is into a brand and image and everything. That takes deep listening. Brett: It does! Well, I'll send Cory an email. Thank you very much!
Ever have someone call you in the middle your busy day and then they launch into something completely unrelated to what you're doing? It's disorienting. It's sometimes abrasive. It can feel like someone busting the door down at your house while you're having dinner.
On the flipside, do you ever do this to others?
Most people will allow you to continue on once they've answered the phone because they don't want to be perceived as rude by dismissing you, but in fact, if you've completely interrupted them, they're only going to catch half of what you say, at best.
Conversationally, how do you politely knock before you enter someone's world? How do you ready someone to hear you before you begin?
It's really about expectation and permission.
Most people don't need much time to switch gears. If you help them with this, you'll have a more successful conversation and both of you will listen better to the other.
Start your part of the conversation with something that respects them and allows them an easy out.
"Hi Sue. It's Brett. Is this a good time, or a bad time, to talk?"
"Hi Jason. This is Brett, and I wanted to know if you have a few minutes?"
By starting with the question and suggesting that it's okay to delay the conversation, you honor their world. What's more, if now is a good time, they've given you permission to proceed, and mentally, they're more engaged, having set down their things, so to speak, to really hear you.
The more you help others succeed at listening, the better your relationship will be.
My first class at Iowa State University was Speech 110: Listening. I took that because I figured that I could only enhance my experience of being lectured for the next few years if I was a better listener.
The first thing that Dr. Kaufmann taught us is that 90% of listening is non-verbal. It's not what you say - it's how you say it. Conversely, it's also not what you hear, but what you see. Body language provides a context through which we hear more than what is spoken. Is a picture is worth a thousand words? Absolutely.
In her book, Listening: the Forgotten Skill, Madelyn Burley-Allen lists 36 non-verbal behaviors. As you read through this tweaked list, based on what she gave in her book, think of how you interpret it when you see someone else do each behavior in conversation with you.
Raising an eyebrow
Nodding the head
Sitting forward in the chair
Opening and relaxing body posture
Putting a hand over the mouth
Nodding the head
Looking at the speaker sideways
Maintaining eye contact
Slumping in the chair
Folding arms across the chest
Tilting the head
Narrowing the eyes
Arching the neck forward
Pursing the lips
Tapping the foot or drumming the fingers
Sudden leg or foot movement
Shrugging the shoulders
Puffing the cheeks
Shaking the head
Some are positive, some are negative. It doesn't really matter what is said. Each of these communicates volumes by their very act. Often, these are "spoken" without any thought. They're natural body movements, subconsciously responsive.
So think it through... if you have an important point to make, how do you react to these when you see these behaviors? For those that are perceived negatively, how you do move the conversation forward into positive territory?
Now consider how you respond to others through what you communicate with your body. Are you subconsciously killing conversation by showing that you listen poorly?
I finished my work on texture at the top of the painting, and I'm happier with the result. It's not so much that I didn't like the style of the other - I think I'll try that more some time - it's that the painting started having two different styles, and that didn't feel right to me.
As my son put it after seeing this draft, "That looks more like your other paintings. I liked the other one, but I like this one too."
So I decided to take this opportunity, with the painting about halfway done, to compare taking a photo of the work to scanning it in. Because it's a 16 x 20 painting, it takes four scans.
I then have to align the scans, which takes a bit of effort. But here's the result:
And compare that to a photo taken of it:
The photo is more washed out, more dilluted. So the lesson for me here is that unless the painting is simply too large to scan, scanning is worth the effort of assembling the quadrants into a coherent whole.
On to the pool and the woman... who happens to be my wife sitting poolside in her parent's backyard, but I'm going to attempt to make her more generic.
I've got a couple of problems I need to remedy. First, the head of the woman and her left shoulder are inordinately large. That shouldn't be a big deal, though is it is tricky now near the end to fix things such as that.
And the water's upper reflection line rings false as it rises toward the right of the painting. I need to make a second pass anyway on the side of the pool and do the necessary detail work, so that should clean it up.
I think two more sessions with this one and I'll have it done.
Things I've learned: I really like larger paintings and I very much like filbert brushes.
The infamous judge who sued his dry cleaners for $67 million over a lost pair of pants had his day in court. The judge decided against him, showing that America is indeed a just place to live.
That's right - the pomposity that is Roy L. Pearson Jr. got the smack down he well-deserved.
The sad thing is that ol' Roy's a judge, who holds court to interpret the law for others, and he somehow believed that the law gave him the right to drag his local dry cleaners through court for two years and sue for an amount totalling over 80,000 pairs of the pants, which had a value of $800, as he gave it.
And if that's not enough to believe Judge Pearson impeachable, how about his behavior on the stand?
On the witness stand, Pearson broke down in tears and had to take a break from his testimony because he became too emotional while questioning himself about his experience with the missing trousers.
In his opening statement, Pearson came out swinging, telling the court, "Never before in recorded history have a group of defendants engaged in such misleading and unfair business practices."
Repeatedly referring to himself as "we..."
What is he - the queen??
Pearson sought to present himself as the leader of a class of tens of thousands, if not a half million people, consisting of local residents he believes are at risk of falling for such insidious business practices as posting "Satisfaction Guaranteed" and "Same Day Service" signs. Pearson said at one point in court filings that he planned to call 63 witnesses.
"Mr. Pearson, you are not 'we.' You are an 'I,'" Bartnoff told him.
As Pearson explained the details of the missing pants, he struggled to get through his hour and a half of testimony, most of which concerned his credentials and his background.
He became visibly emotional when he reached the point in the story in which he recounted a confrontation with Soo Chung from the dry cleaning store.
"These are not my pants," he testified, and said he told her, "I have in my adult life, with one exception, never worn pants with cuffs."
Pearson testified that Chung insisted, saying, "These are your pants."
Pearson then rushed from the courtroom, overcome with emotion.
He rushed from the courtroom, overcome with emotion, over a pair of pants?
And he presides over justice in court?? Hoo boy. I hope that's corrected as soon as possible.
The "customer is always right" - a business cliché - has the right heart, but the wrong direction. It's not that the customer is always right. Sometimes, the customer is wrong. Everyone knows that.
By saying the "customer is always right," it's an effort to try and satisfy the customer. Satisfied customers come back, you see. Therein lies the logic.
Any business transaction should satisfy the customer - obviously - but it should also satisfy the company. No company stays in business that tries to satisfy everyone by giving away the store.
The right direction is that customers should always be heard. Whether a customer is right or wrong, what matters is that they matter. Customers feel significant and respected when they feel that a company has listened to them.
"Hello... ABC Plumbing? This is Mrs. Jones." "Hi Mrs. Jones. What can I do for you?" "You overcharged me."
ABC Plumbing could simply give in to Mrs. Jones and take off the amount perceived as overcharged. After all, the "customer is always right" - right?
There's a better way to move ahead with this.
"We overcharged you? I'd like to know more about that. Do you have your statement handy? I'd like to walk through it with you." "Yes, I have it right here." "Tell me the part that you feel is incorrect, if you would." "It says here that your man worked for 3 hours. That's not true. He was only here for 2 hours." "I see on my system here that Jason did the work for you that day. I'd like to call him and ask him about this. What's a convenient time to call you back?" "I'll be home this afternoon." "I appreciate that you brought this to my attention, Mrs. Jones. Let's get to the truth about this." "Yes." "I'll call you back at 2:00. Thank you for contacting us about it." "Yes. I look forward to getting this corrected."
At this point, whether the time charged her is correct or not, Mrs. Jones has been made a partner with the company in solving her problem. Getting to the truth - whether accurate or not - is now the mission. She knows that the company has completely heard her side of it. She feels valued and important. And if the bill was accurate and she's wrong, Mrs. Jones is more apt to agree to the truth.
Taking the time to listen and then taking action on their behalf cements customer loyalty, not give-aways and subservience. The business owner's chief responsibility to employees and customers is to sustain the business. Listening is the best path for continued success.
Yesterday, I had two very smart comments from Janet and Bella about what I'd written on the customer always being right heard.
Janet wants to see the second chapter in the short story of Mrs. Jones' complaint about being overbilled. Three hours of service from ABC Plumbing? Pshaw, says she. Mrs. Jones insists that it was two.
Janet sees three options:
Strike an hour from the bill because "the customer is always right"
Insist Mrs. Jones pay the full bill
Offer to split the difference with her
Janet also wonders: how does a company "stand behind its employee, and satisfy the customer?"
What a great question.
Bella, likewise, asserts "whether you like it or not, there will always be a certain amount of giveaway and subservience. That's why it's called customer service."
I love that... customer service, indeed.
So how does a business rectify the situation? Assuming that there is no way to prove either story - two hours or three hours - the business has a decision to make.
I think we've all done business with a company that didn't listen to us at all. We call to air our concern and we wander in a maze of phone menu, or we speak to someone with all the personal skills of cardboard, or we're simply told we're wrong and that's the end of it. Do we feel heard?
In any contention in any relationship, our first best step is to simply listen fully to what the other person has to say. As Stephen Covey says, we should "seek to understand before we seek to be understood." That alone says that we esteem the other person and their point of view. If we stop them from speaking what they need to air, we only compound their frustration. And so as difficult as this may be, we need to be quiet and put ourselves aside for a moment and just listen.
Bella says it well when she says that "most people in situations like this want what is right, not just to be right."
The emotion of it wants to be right. By listening fully and silently, we help subside the emotion of it. And in that relative calm, most people are ready to want what is right.
Sanity lies in having the right relationships in our lives. That applies personally as well as professionally. No business should have a relationship with someone who doesn't want a fair trade. Giving away the store for the sake of maintaining a customer is not good business. While a business owner might feel good about the company wearing a steak around its neck to attract the hounds of the world, it's not worth it. Some customers are not worth the expense.
So to answer Janet's great question: it depends on the value of Mrs. Jones as a customer. If Mrs. Jones always undercuts the word of employees, then it's best to part ways. Mrs. Jones can go be right with some other company. Severing the relationship is best.
But if this is a hiccup in an otherwise sound relationship, and if Mrs. Jones persists in her story, then seeing it her way this one time is well worth it. She liked you before, she had a complaint but found that you listened to her, and she saw that you valued her business enough to see it her way this one time. Her repeat business and now positive experience increases the word-of-mouth marketing that she'll do for your company. The smart move is to let her be right.
We only show integrity when it costs us something, and integrity is an adjective every company craves about itself in the mouths of its customers.
I voted for President Bush twice. At the moment, I regret that second vote. It's not that I think Kerry should have won. It's that I think Bush has become the most hollowed out version of a president I can imagine. He has completely abandoned nearly every one of the reasons I voted for him. I voted for him chiefly because I expected him to fight hard for the ownership society, which I saw - and still see - as a means of protecting my children from the burden of carrying an endlessly aging and 76 million strong baby boomer population. It was a campaign slogan. And while Bush can say that he did that because there was too much opposition, how would he justify that with the enormous opposition in America to the amnesty bill he's pushing to get to his desk for an overeager signature?
Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans show themselves worthy. Earmark/pork spending, the forementioned amnesty bill, the sloshing around with the money to help our troops who are in the field of battle... I'm disgusted.
At this moment, I will vote neither Democrat nor Republican in the next election. I'm adrift, waiting for the creation (or restoration) of some group of politicians who would believe and vigorously pursue the following:
Strong, enforced, and legal immigration
America first foreign policy (let the other nations push their own agendas...)
Rush Nigut makes a wonderful point about the importance of being observant, and he separates listening from observation in saying in the comments, "You need to observe rather than listen." I think both are equally important. I'll explain...
A few years ago, I was trading email with my friend, Bella, and she said something that stuck with me: she said that it's all about paying attention. By paying attention, we can salvage any relationship in our lives that might be in trouble, be it with a customer, a friend, or a spouse. People are flattered when you pay attention to them.
Have you ever gone into a store and seen a clerk remember someone's name and favorite order? "The usual today, Mrs. Jones? The caramel cappuccino with a half-twist of lemon and a sprinkle of nutmeg?"
Didn't that person feel important? Didn't you think they were important as you watched this exchange?
Or what about when your significant other hands you your Christmas gift and it's something you mentioned in passing 6 months ago while walking through the mall?
Moments like these cement loyalty big time.
Rush is right - observation is key, and incidents like these show that we are observant.
While understanding metaphors and all the various forms of nonverbal communication can boost your ability to connect with others, you won't get far without a strong foundation of good, basic listening skills. Your knack for drawing others out and expressing genuine curiosity about their lives can be a real boon to bidding for connection and establishing satisfying relationships. Good listening skills can help you to feel easy in all sorts of social situation, and to build the kind of rapport that leads to solid emotional bonds.
Observation is irreplaceable, and I think the same attentiveness that we show through observation is exhibited in our listening.
Dale Carnegie said:
"You can make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."
People have to see that we're paying attention. Listening does that in conversation through the use of questions and body language. Observation can too, but I think it's tougher to show it through observation. Because perception = reality, we might be paying devout attention by observing, but I don't know that people would get the message that we're clued in. And they need that. They need to see indications that we're focused on them. Listening, and what we communicate verbally and nonverbally when we do listen, signals that we're paying attention in a more immediate sense than just observation can.
I'm totally diggin' the comments these days. Lots of smart insight, and I hadn't yet considered observation in this thread of Listen Well posts, but I will.
I highly recommend Dorothy Leeds book, The 7 Powers of Questions. I've based the following 10 questions from a quiz in her book. Give a simple True or False to each question.
1. Sometimes, I get impatient when listening to others and finish their sentences for them.
2. I make clear eye contact with the person to whom I am listening.
3. Sometimes, people tell me that I am not listening to them.
4. When listening, I spend more time trying to see the other person's perspective than I do thinking of what to say next.
5. When I can't give my full attention, I let the other person know.
6. I think it's appropriate to interrupt whenever I need clarification.
7. How well I listen depends on the person speaking.
8. I can listen and multitask at the same time.
9. I never need to take notes, as I remember conversations quite well.
10. When I meet someone and I hear their name, I generally remember it.
How'd you do?
A bit of comment about each one...
1. Any time that you finish someone's sentence for them, you're making an assumption. That can be dangerous. Some people use this method as a segue for themselves to talk again. Personally, I do this when I think a person is struggling for a word - I try to supply what I think works best for where I thought the conversation was going. But it can be offensive and frankly, it's an assumption on my part. I think it's best not done unless asked.
2. I make an effort to do this, but for some people, it's distracting for them to make clear eye contact, so they look aside. My former platoon sergeant in the Army did this all the time. He never looked you in the eye when in conversation. It turned a lot of people off and they didn't trust him, for that (and other reasons), but it does give that impression.
3. We can get defensive when we're told that we're not listening. If this is said to you, take it for what it is and double your effort to remain silent and let the other person speak fully. If you want to say this to someone, be careful - because they'll likely jump on you if you interrupt them in any way. Might be best to write an email later.
4. Seeing the perspective of someone else is sometimes hard because their experience doesn't always fit neatly into how we see the world. Ask the person for help to see it from their side if you're struggling. They'll generally be quick to help you.
5. Ever tell someone, "I'd like to give you my full attention, but now isn't the best time for me?" It can feel rude, but it's better than missing what they say. Especially when they ask you about it later.
6. You have to be careful with interruptions. If it has to be done to get clarification, best to make it very brief and not use the opportunity to launch into your own speech. You'll know that you're doing this right when you find that you're asking a one-sentence question and then waiting for the response.
7. Of course, this is true for everyone. I listen to my wife, Tamara, much more intently than I listen to the checkout guy in Best Buy. But remember that we're always leaving an impression, so it's best to make the best effort for the circumstances.
8. I have yet to meet the person who listens well while multitasking. There are times when it's unavoidable, but either the task or the listening will suffer.
9. I also have yet to meet the person with a photographic memory. Conversations don't always need note-taking, but they do require some humility if we remember it wrong. Better to look for the intent of what was spoken than what we remember to actually have been said.
10. There are people who really have a tough time with faces and names. Heard of face blindness? I think some folks probably have a true "name blindness" as well. But that said, people are flattered when we remember their name. Doing so will improve our ability to have good relationships.
As I leisurely rewrote my web site over the past few months, I implemented a new blogroll. The format is longer than a typcial blogroll, and so I grew concerned about having tens or eventually hundreds of blogs listed because it would be exhausting to find anyone.
Well, no more. I implemented Tags, to make filtering the list easier.
Check it out! I'll begin adding more folks to it in the next week.