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Are you Satisfied?

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Are you Satisfied?

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      In September of 1960, J.F. Kennedy engaged Richard Nixon in the first presidential candidates’ debate. Kennedy’s opening statement in that debate has now become the famous “I am not satisfied” speech.

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      Besides the rhetorical power of that speech in its repetitive use of the phrase “I am not satisfied…”, what is interesting about it is how Kennedy used it to pull the rug out from under what he knew would be Nixon’s strategy for the debate: Red-baiting. While Kennedy did start by describing the communist threat of the Soviet Union and China, the main body of the speech is about the internal failure of America. Kennedy stole what he knew would be Nixon’s main arguement (the communist threat) and turned it to a debate about domestic, social, and government failures.

      What Kennedy’s team rightly strategized was that in any competitive environment, political or businesses, sustainable success starts with focusing on your own house. You will not win the race by focusing on the competition.

      There are a number of reasons for this.

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      It’s always too late.

      Competing by focusing on the competition is always a ‘trailing’ activity. Your competition moves; you react. This carries the significant risk of always being too late to the dance, and one step behind the music. Further, it breeds a mindset that looks backwards and adjusts to the agenda of others, rather than looking forward and setting your own agenda to make your customers happy.

      It is usually inconsistent with your values.

      There are three main reasons why any initiative fails: inadequate planning, inadequate time, doing something inconsistent with who you are. In my experience new strategies undertaken by businesses that are not in keeping with their values (which are written down in their mission statement, right?) are inevitably abandoned, or worse, lead to unproductive distractions. And if your competition is dictating strategies, there is a great likelihood you will be reacting from a place outside of your best values.

      Your competition is probably wrong.

      In fact from a branding perspective, they almost certainly wrong. Your brand is primarily defined by how your customers perceive you, and by the relationship they have with you. From that perspective, making marketing decisions in reaction to a competitor will throw that relationship out of whack. If your competition really were right for your customers, they would be doing business with them. They aren’t, so focus your decision-making on the customer relationships you already have.

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      Your competitors are a distraction.

      Literally. If focus is one of the absolutely key preconditions for success, to the extent your competitors are able to distract you, they are taking your focus from your customers and your own values. By staying focused on the market environment, on what really matters to you, and on the most direct lines with your customers you will keep your competitors reacting to you rather than the other way around. This is exactly what Kennedy did in 1960. He had not heard Nixon’s opening statement yet, but his team had a pretty good idea that the main thrust would be the ‘communist threat’. Kennedy was able to use his superior rhetorical skills and the brilliant strategy of identifying the greatest threat to America’s security as being internal failures which weakened the country’s ability to deal with its enemies. This worked so brilliantly because it spoke directly to Kennedy’s ‘customers’: it touched their own deep vein of dissatisfaction with the status quo, and connected it to the ‘red scare’ of the times, synthesising a message of real power.

      How do you ensure you are keeping your focus where it belongs? Here is a quick practical checklist based on my work, that will make sure that you are focusing your energies on taking care of your own house:

      1. How are you spending your time? While some time should always be spent scanning your external competitive environment (most small businesses don’t take the time they should at this), the majority of your ‘scanning time’ should be spent finding out what your customers love about your business and what more they need from you.
      2. Size isn’t everything. Just because your competition has added a new space, a new outlet, or a new merger, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do for you or for your customers*. Remember that it’s about profitability, not just sales. Smaller, targeted, efficient operations are often more profitable than larger operations drunk on the big sales figures. And when it is time to move or expand, do so because your customers demand it, not because your competition is pushing you. Like your mother always said “If your competition jumped off a bridge, would you do that too??” She said that, didn’t she?
      3. Are your customers calling the shots? Building your relationship with your customers is more important and more productive than allowing your competition to drag you into a draining battle. Great customer relationships will always be your greatest sustainable competitive advantage. If you know more about your competition than about your customers, then you’ve got your priorities wrong. You’ve also got them wrong if your competition knows more about your customers than you do!
      4. Focus on financial basics: cash flow, profitability, retained earnings. Be as conservative with your financial strategies as you are extravagant in your customer service strategies. Then when the right time comes to make that competition-killing move of expanding or changing to a stronger location, you will have the financial foundation under you to make that move decisively.
      5. Does everyone on your team know where the priorities are? Communicate your priorities and values to everyone on your team and employee group. Let them know that when they are making day-to-day decisions about pricing, products, customer service, etc. that they should be very cautious about reacting to what ‘so and so’ is doing down the street. Remind them that if they are not responding to customer demand, they should re-examine their motives for action. Reacting to changes in the environment is very important, but it should not take their focus from your customers.
      6. Keep your own house in order. Literally. Is your space as attractive to your customers, and as functional for your employees, as it can be? Does your team have the tools to get the job done? Are there any barriers to productivity in your work place? Deal with those before you invest in a fancy new ad campaign just because Acme Inc. down the street did.

      As the last year or so has shown, on Wall Street and on Main Street, the most aggressive, competitive, slickest operations fall like a house of cards if they aren’t focused on what really matters: extraordinary relationships with customers, and sound financial, operational, and human resources fundamentals.

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      “It’s what’s on the inside that matters” is more than just something your grandmother would say when you first commented inappropriately on the phenomenon of physically unattractive people. It is the real foundation of a sustainably competitive business.


      * Size isn’t everything. Want real world proof? Check out the rise and fall of the Royal Bank of Scotland, vs. the Royal Bank of Canada. Until the financial sector reboot, there was lots of crying in Canada about “how come Canadian banks can’t be big and exciting and powerful and sexy like all those European and American banks??” I think we have our answer now.

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      8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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      8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

      How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

      Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

      When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

      Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

      What Makes People Poor Listeners?

      Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

      1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

      Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

      Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

      It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

      2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

      This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

      Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

      3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

      It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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      I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

      If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

      4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

      While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

      To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

      My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

      Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

      Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

      How To Be a Better Listener

      For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

      1. Pay Attention

      A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

      According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

      As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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      I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

      2. Use Positive Body Language

      You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

      A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

      People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

      But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

      According to Alan Gurney,[2]

      “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

      Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

      3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

      I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

      Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

      Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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      Be polite and wait your turn!

      4. Ask Questions

      Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

      5. Just Listen

      This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

      I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

      I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

      6. Remember and Follow Up

      Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

      For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

      According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

      It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

      7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

      If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

      Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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      Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

      Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

      NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

      1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
      2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

      8. Maintain Eye Contact

      When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

      Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

      By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

      Final Thoughts

      Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

      You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

      And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

      More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

      Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
      [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
      [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
      [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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