You hear, but do you really listen?

If we reflected back on our lives, we’d notice that the root of some, or many, of our problems is just not listening. I once failed to assemble an item I’d bought because I did not pay attention to the instructions given, resulting in ruining a brand new gadget.

My friend, on the other hand, missed her final exam in university because she did not listen carefully to the assigned date and time. She had to overcome many hurdles before the university agreed to allow her to sit the exam.

According to research conducted by Florida State University and Michigan State University, we only retain 25 per cent of the information we hear.

When it comes to business, failing to listen could result in huge monetary losses.

In the creative field, for instance, where messages are developed to target clients, listening is a key skill. As I work in this sector, I have had to improve listening skills that were previously not so great.

Failing to listen properly could result in a failed campaign, waste of time and loss of accounts. Who would want to work with someone who failed to address their customers’ needs? The same applies to product developers and customer service representatives.

While social media has allowed many businesses to interact directly with their clients, it’s also made it even harder to stand out. Why is that? Because there is so much digital noise. When I log in to my Instagram account, for example, I process a lot of information in the few minutes I spend scrolling down a page. It’s an exercise similar to trying to listen to someone in an crowded room, as something has to be really visually attractive to make me stop and read the caption under it, or to view the other posts on its page.

Journalists often use terms such as scandal to attract readers to their articles. And when it comes video, our attention span has become shorter and shorter, with users now accustomed to 10-second videos and short sound bites. When Instagram extended the maximum time length for uploaded videos from 15 seconds to one minute, many users complained that 15 seconds was a lot to begin with.

I have written about how video sharing apps will become the more dominant social media apps, something that extends the need to become even more creative when producing content to appeal to a certain audience.

This emphasises the importance for marketers and content creators, and even business owners, to become better listeners, or more conscious listeners, to understand their customers’ needs and thus create solutions they would be interested in. Here’s what you could do to work on that:

First, practice sitting in complete silence or in a quiet environment for three minutes a day or more if you can without distracting yourself. Just close your eyes and enjoy the silence. Before incorporating meditation into my daily routine, I admit it was pretty hard to do, given that I was a person who always had to have some noise in the background.

Second, when conducting research or getting feedback from clients to work on your products or campaign, have a notebook and pen in hand to keep things in check. Towards the end of your meeting you could go over some key points and see if you have any questions. While doing that, avoid interrupting the speaker, and wait for them to finish what they have to say before you respond back.

Last but not least, our phones are perhaps the main cause of distraction these days. When in an important meeting, put your phone away and focus on whomever is speaking.

Becoming a better listener will not only enhance your business, but also your personal life.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer and communications consultant based in Abu Dhabi. Twitter: @manar_alhinai.

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