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The Art of Listening: It Can Fill Space, Keep Clients, and Help You Be More Competitive

Published by Sue Saldibar for Officing Today.

Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll once said that the problem with communication is the “illusion that it has been achieved.” This is as true today as it was in the 1800s when he first made the now famous statement.

Active listening is an art that acts as the foundation for all communication. Perfecting the art of listening, then, makes the illusion of communication a tangible reality. And, for business centers, this tangible reality manifests itself in the form of more closed business, better customer service, more effective operations and improved profit margins.

“Most people don’t recognize how powerful listening can be. It is given short shrift as a communication tool,” says Craig Harrison, a Berkeley, Calif.-based motivational speaker who specializes in communication and customer service. “Listening is where you uncover unmet needs. Listening helps you understand all sorts of ways in which you can better serve customers. It’s only through listening that you really gauge what’s going on with your customers; what’s working and what’s not.”

Don’t “Pretend to Understand” if You Don’t

Much like any other skill, some business center operators will have a natural talent for listening and others must develop the ability. While talkers often have a more difficult time listening, experts say even “Chatty Cathys” can learn listening skills. Understanding the basics of good listening will serve as a building blocks for the success your business.

Harrison says it is hazardous to act like you understand the customer when you don’t. If the goal is to listen so that you can better serve the tenant (or prospective tenant), then pretending to understand works against that goal. To that end, experts say paraphrasing is a powerful tactic that helps listeners clearly understand the customer’s message.

Paraphrasing helps avoid costly mistakes, gives the tenant reassurance that you are listening and can slow down fast talkers. For example, when the customer recites his phone number or street address you can repeat it in small chunks. Or when the customer explains his rental needs you can summarize those needs before moving ahead to fill them.

Part of effective listening is asking the right questions. Instead of yes and no questions, then, experts suggest open-ended questions that prompt the customer to share more specific information. Taking that concept a step further, asking pointed questions will result in precise answers that will prevent confusion and save time. How many square feet do they really need? What customized services are they looking for?

When you practice active listening—expressing verbal and non-verbal cues—you give customers assurance that you understand what they are saying. Experts say a few verbal affirmations, like “uh-huh” and “I see,” go a long way in establishing trust in communication. Nodding the head in agreement is another verbal cue that instills this trust. By the same token, active feedback alerts customers when you don’t quite grasp what’s being said. Furrowing your brow, tilting your head slightly or interjecting with a request for more details are a good means to eliminating confusion.

Welcome… May I Listen?

Whether the customer calls you or visits the facility in person, listening during leasing process is critical since the customer is looking to as an alternative office expert who can provide valuable advice.

Many people are still renting alternative office space the first time and they need to what to expect, who pays for what, etc. Sometimes their thought processes and the way they are speaking isn’t necessarily going to give you all those answers. You have to pull the answers out of the caller and then listen carefully to the responses.

So how do you do that? To listen well you must first focus. That means you have to stop everything else and pay attention to the client. Everyone wants you to be taken seriously, Making eye contact is a must. Make notes so they don’t feel marginalized. When you take notes, you are listening with respect.

To be sure, if you are not listening to the tenants’ needs then the end result is unhappy tenants. On the other side of the coin, if you are not truly listening, then you may be shooting yourself in the foot by providing a discount for longer than you need to. Through the art of listening you’ve narrowed down the discount from six months to three months and saved the company quite a bit of money in the long-term.


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