The Lost Art of Listening

By Rick Gabrielsen President, Kupuna Hospitality, LLC | April 08, 2012

The art of listening has boldly disappeared in our society, or at least that is my observation. Take a look at the television or listen to the radio. The dialogue is typically one way with the volume of speech accelerated to the point of banter thereby closing the listening senses. This begs the question, "Do you hear what I hear or do you just want to speak first?" Engage the sense of sound and you will uncover the many joys of listening… and learning.

In my previous articles, I wrote about "creating a thread of green between team members and guests ", "the art of balancing profit, people and progress ", and most recently, "creating our own leadership values ". Each has addressed the cultures of balance, creativity, values and listening. One of our sacred possessions is to listen, and I am absolutely dumbfounded as to why the public, press and other communicative devices have lost the true art of listening. Listen is to learning what speaking is to selling. Everyone has a question, but we should take to heart the best question which is to listen first.

Take a moment and close your eyes. In fact, take the next two minutes. You quickly realize all you have during this time is to listen to your heart and breathe. You may have tried this exercise in a past seminar regarding stress, time management or other, but this short one hundred and twenty second self exploration will reveal the true feelings of listening. Do you recall the sound of a newborn's first breath or the pounding of a heartbeat? Or within yourself as you nervously prepare for a presentation or after a run at the park. Did you have to speak first to obtain a reaction or just by listening did you receive the message loud and clear? On the other hand, when being counseled by a friend or family member, were you able to interject your thoughts or did you just listen to their delivery? During a debate, do you listen first to obtain your strategy or is your initial reaction to respond abruptly? Have you asked another their perception of a conversation to see if they heard what you heard?

Recently, I received three calls from associates that were involved in an earlier discussion together and wanted my reaction to that conversation. Since I was not part of the original dialogue, I responded to each that I therefore could not reply. Each person when receiving data from another has many factors in place impacting how they listening. They may have been jubilant after successfully obtaining a client they pursued for months or the receiver may have received a last-minute project and is distracted by thoughts of timelines and resources. In each of these situations the individual did not recognize that they were not in a place to listen and engage the speaker in a dialogue. Unfortunately this happens way too frequently and often creates confusion, and in some cases, unnecessary conflict. Consider the valuable time saved if even one of the parties would ask politely for clarity or offer to repeat back what you heard said. We all receive information differently based on pre-determined filters and the environment of discussion, but when it is important to you it is important to them. STOP for a moment and remember the heartbeat, the breath- go to that place where listening is productive and personal.

Do you hear what I hear, is also misunderstood in the verbal or written word. As an example, if a note card was left on your desk that only says, "C/Me" how would you respond? Would it not depend on your frame of mind, how the day is going, the tasks to complete, or a previous conversation? Of course it would all influence your response, but the best question is to listen. Playing defense is listening to a conversation and determining a strategy, playing offense is to speak for others to determine that strategy.

Let's explore the listening senses the speaker sees. Are your arms crossed? Do you twitch and give away clues when you disagree? Do others know when you are agitated? Do you take the "Business bypass" when listening, thinking that you have heard it before and feel confident you can catch up with the speaker when the freeway of thought connects shortly? In each of these instances (be honest, we have all participated), but the goal of listening is to recognize our shortcomings and visualize a conversation as a shared canvas.

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In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.