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I’d have to submit that one of the most underrated skills anyone has is the art of listening. I regularly work with Boy Scouts who are working their way to the rank of Eagle. It’s a lofty goal that requires a merit badge entitled Communications. One of the badge requirements is an exercise wherein the boys log every form of communication they experience for a full day. When I interview the candidates and review their journal entries, they almost always miss the alarm clock or their mom’s waking them up in the morning. They miss the street signs along their ride to school. They usually miss the morning’s announcements coming across the school’s PA system. The exercise’s goal is to awaken a recognition of how many forms of communication we all experience every moment of the day.
My point is this, we usually think of listening in the context of conversation and generally admit that we aren’t even good at that. Startup, and business success in general, requires us to listen at a more fundamental level. To listen with all of our senses. What are the unspoken vibes in that engineering meeting? Does it feel like we have buy in or is there pent up frustration? What are our customers saying? Is a low sales volume saying our pricing might be wrong or that our marketing is failing or something else entirely? When people see our logo, our website, or hear our elevator pitch, do they come away with the feeling we intended for them? Perhaps they see immaturity in our company (a cartoon logo might impart that message) or don’t feel we are addressing their specific needs.
I believe that if we engender listening as a fundamental component of our company culture, then we are enabling ourselves to better see and hear where our strengths and weaknesses may lie. A company that listen’s well is able to anticipate and make small course corrections along its journey to growth. Big corrections are always harder to implement and their costs are always more than just financial.
I’m interested to hear what your other contributors have to say. I’ll be listening.