Delivering Value Through Critical Listening

By Michelle Voznyuk, Senior Marketing Consultant at Heinz Marketing

Listening is one of the most important skills we can have when developing relationships with others. After all, you always hear the key to a successful marriage is through communication. But in order to communicate well, you first have to be able to listen well.

Learning how to be a good listener can not only transform your personal life, but your professional life as well. Whether you’re marketing a product, speaking with a customer, or guiding a client, listening will go far in delivering real value.

Chances are, you’ve already heard of the practice of “active listening”. This involves paying close attention while someone speaks. The intention is to provide feedback in a way that shows you heard the complete message of what was being said. While active listening is a good skill to hone in on, I would argue that “critical listening” takes this one step further.

Critical listening is “a process for understanding what is said and evaluating, judging, and forming an opinion on what you heard. The listener assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the content, agrees or disagrees with the information, analyzes and synthesizes material” (source).

There are a few key points here I’d like to point out:

1. Understanding

It’s great to have someone pay attention while you speak. But are they listening to respond or listening to understand? The problem here is that often times, we lose sight of understanding when we’re too focused on thinking about how we’re going to respond. Taking a second to think critically about the situation rather than jumping the gun can prove you understand what your client or customer is saying.

2. Assessing strengths and weaknesses

When seeking out external help, clients and customers are likely trying to fill a gap or look for answers. Listening, forming an understanding, and providing a third-party assessment can not only highlight challenges and opportunities, but show you truly care about helping them find a solution.

3. Agreeing or disagreeing

Providing real value isn’t just about being a “yes man”. When having a conversation, there should be freedom to express opinions and agree or disagree with the information being shared. In my opinion, this is crucial in establishing yourself as a subject matter expert. Pushing back when you disagree is not about proving you are right and they are wrong. It should challenge the status quo and shed light on the situation in a way the client or customer may not have seen things before. This outside opinion, when communicated and received well, should provide a clear path forward.

I hope you found these tips helpful as you continue to navigate your relationships into 2022. By learning to critically listen, you can differentiate yourself among competitors, increase messaging effectiveness, and deliver value to your customers and clients.

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