You Can’t Talk And Listen At The Same Time

We all deal with customers and/or members. You may be in retail, wholesale or a service-based business. You may work in a financial institution or in the hospitality industry. You may be a librarian, teacher, scientist or law officer. You may be a parent or spouse. In some manner, form or fashion, you deal with customers and/or members. And you constantly have the challenge to communicate effectively.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have made three presentations based on my recent book, “Are We Communicating Yet?” This is a “meaty,” humor-laced talk people have responded to well. Just about everyone realizes he or she could improve greatly when it comes to communicating. The need to improve is well documented by an American Management Association report that 90 percent of all problems in an organization is a result of poor communication. Industrial psychologists claim effective communication is the lifeblood of good relationships with business associates, customers/members, vendors and investors. Marriage and family counselors point to poor communication as a common reason for interpersonal conflict.
One of the primary reasons communication is so badly handled in our society is because most people are extremely poor listeners, with an average listening retention factor of only 13-17 percent. How can you become a better listener to customers and/or members and, therefore, become a better communicator?
Well, you can begin by establishing the proper atmosphere and attitude. Make sure you are ready to receive and respond to someone, whether in person or on the phone. Start listening with the first word said. Often, after clearly and slowly telling someone my name on the phone, the person has responded, “Now, what did you say your name is?”
Concentrate on the customer/member and turn off your own concerns. Think only about what is relevant to this conversation and to the person. Discipline yourself to resist outside distractions. Focus on the big picture. Rather than trying to remember every single word, listen for the ideas. Cut to the essence of the person’s wants and needs. As you respond to the issues, don’t be distracted by such things as a grating voice, poor grammar or ineffective expression. Don’t try to finish sentences if a person speaks slowly.
Keep in mind you can’t talk and listen at the same time. Don’t interrupt. Do use vehicles such as ‘I see” and “Yes” to help carry the conversation along and to show you are listening. You can also ask questions to help draw out people and help them express themselves. If you feel you don’t understand something, get it cleared up before it results in an embarrassing and perhaps costly mistake later on.
There are over 100 million workers in America and most make more than one listening mistake daily. Suppose each listening mistake cost ten dollars. That would total over a billion dollars lost per day in our business society because of poor listening! A recent news report told of an executive who misunderstood what an employee said on the phone. This listening mistake cost the company over five million dollars – and cost the executive and the employee their jobs.
Toward the end of your conversation, summarize what you understand has been agreed on. Highlight the key issues to make sure you and the customer/member are on the same page. Take responsibility for the success of the encounter.
The dictionary defines “communication” as a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs or behaviors. This means communication is a two-way street, involving a sender and a receiver. The sender’s responsibility is to present a clear message. The receiver’s responsibility is to (1) hear (2) interpret (3) evaluate and (4) respond to the message.
Good communication can occur when the sender and the receiver show mutual respect. The sender shows respect through the words used and the receiver shows respect through actively listening to what the sender says. It is a give and take situation, with both parties doing some giving and taking during the process.
Carl Mays, author of over a dozen books and speaker at over 3,000 events, can be contacted at 865-436-7478 or His books, including A Strategy For Winning, People of Passion, Anatomy Of A Leader, Are We Communicating Yet? and Winning Thoughts, are available in stores, on and


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