Listen Up

We recently had an amazing client meeting. It ran for more than 2 hours, and in that time, we the BarnRaisers, collectively, spoke for maybe 20 minutes. That’s right. The rest was filled with the client. And it was amazing.

Over the course of the meeting, the client shared their successes and opportunities. They told us about current and forthcoming organizational shifts. They shared their visions and concerns. And we listened.

That’s the number one thing we do at BarnRaising Associates. Listen. We know it’s a great client meeting when we spend no more than 10% of the time talking. In fact, at a minimum, our goal is to be listening no less than 80% of the time. Why? Because it’s only by listening that we’re able to understand our client’s pressure points and opportunities for growth. By really listening we hear not only what is said, but take note of all that is left unsaid too.

Listening gives us insights into organizational culture and team beliefs – all key components of building a strong brand and leveraging brand equity. How? We pay attention to who around the table is doing the talking. How other members of our client’s team are responding to comments. When are they leaning in? When are they disengaging? So yes, we’re listening to their words, but also to their body language.

Beyond all of this, we’re also listening to the silences. We’re taking note of what questions our clients aren’t asking. And, perhaps most importantly, what questions they don’t have the answers too.

Because we build trust and establish space for clients to share openly, we are able to identify concerns and opportunities they may not have recognized or identified themselves. By paying attention to the unasked questions, we’re able to develop effective strategies (marketing, communications, leadership, sales or other) that don’t just address what our clients want, but also what they need.

It’s amazing how overlooked the simple skill of listening is. Harvard Business Review shared findings from some listening studies. There are many great insights in the article, but some key takeaways include:

  • People feel judged when given feedback, but are motivated when given the opportunity to share
  • People share more readily when they are paired with good listeners
  • Good listeners enable speakers to see all sides of a situation

As consultants, our number one job is to listen. But, it’s an often overlooked skill that anyone can, and should, practice. So, how can you become a great listener?

  1. Be present. Leave your cell phone in a desk drawer. Look the speaker in their eyes. Let them know that you are there. Take time and really connect with your speaker.
  2. Be engaged in the conversation. Actively listening isn’t sitting in stone silence. Lean in, nod your head or provide other subtle cues (“mm-hmm”, “yes”, or “go on”) to let the speaker know you’re still with them. This builds trust and affirms your speaker’s self-esteem. Back in 2016, the Harvard Business Review shared another article about good listeners – and what they do. In it, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman share that “good listeners are like trampolines. They are someone you can bounce ideas off of — and rather than absorbing your ideas and energy, they amplify, energize, and clarify your thinking. They make you feel better not merely passively absorbing, but by actively supporting.”
  3. Ask open-ended questions to encourage your speaker to share more. Communication is always two-sided, so entering into the conversation by asking probing, insightful questions will show the speaker that you care and allow them to expand on ideas.
  4. Repeat back what you’ve heard, to confirm your understanding. Providing the speaker an opportunity to know if they’ve conveyed what they wanted will help to ensure everyone is on the same page.
  5. Refrain from judgment and knee-jerk problem-solving. Don’t jump to conclusions. These can all lead to interruptions or leave the speaker feel unheard. Instead, keep your mind open and make the space to let what was shared really sink in.

Listening. Really listening. And then working to address and answer not only what’s been shared, but also all that’s been left unsaid is the key to building effective strategies.

So, what is it you’d like to say? Drop us a line – we’d love to listen.

Rumbling with the Vulnerability

If you know anything about us BarnRaisers, you know that we give a shit. This tagline isn’t just for shock and awe – did you hear that consultant cuss! – but is an authentic guiding principal. We care deeply about not only our clients but also about building a better world. Which is why we will only take on clients who are committed to making the world a better place.

As a team, we’re committed to gaining insights and tools to help us serve our clients better. From classes to conferences to reading, we’re always finding ways to remain an effective resource for those we’re working with. And, because we give a shit about our clients – current, past and future – we thought what better way to help than to pass on some of this knowledge on to you? With that in mind – welcome to our inaugural BarnRaising Bookclub, where each month we’ll share insights we gained from a book we’ve delved into.

Continue reading “Rumbling with the Vulnerability”

Stop Floundering

Ah, founders. We love you. Without you, we wouldn’t have amazing innovations and breakthroughs. Your ideas, blood, sweat and tears are making our lives – dare we say world! – better. By asking tough questions and looking at the world through your own unique lens you’ve given us exactly what we needed – oftentimes even when we didn’t know we were missing it. Continue reading “Stop Floundering”

To Lead Not to Manage

We’ve all met them. Those elusive unicorns of the business world: good leaders. Charismatic, energetic, There’s a difference between managers and leaders. Leaders are individuals who inspire and encourage those around them. They seek out collective wins, they celebrate the successes of their hires. Leaders focus on the big picture and don’t get bogged down in the minutiae. That is, however, where managers thrive. Managers are the hawk circling their prey – keeping an eye on every detail and deadline. Second guessing their staff, unashamedly taking praise for successes and quickly attributing blame for failures. Continue reading “To Lead Not to Manage”

Your Best Year Ever

For some, the New Year starts at the stroke of midnight, January 1. It’s full of Old Lang Syne, champagne, kisses and resolutions. For others, like us, the New Year starts the Tuesday after Labour Day. It aligns with the start of school, and fall, and pumpkin spice lattes. For others, it could be the start of a new fiscal year. Regardless of when your New Year (official or otherwise) starts, we can all agree that it tends to be filled with reflection, visioning and plans. Continue reading “Your Best Year Ever”

What’s mantra got to do with it?

What’s your mission statement? If we were to hazard a guess, it would be a long thesis statement that is posted on your website and maybe hanging on your office wall. It was something you and your team worked hard on crafting. It probably included an offsite team retreat and includes loads of inspirational words and non-committal statements. It’s completion was celebrated, and it gets pulled out from time-to-time, tacked into a job posting or on an annual report without even a solid dusting. And while you did it and have it, we’d also guess that none of your employees could recite it to us, let alone tell us what it means, both for the business and to them. Continue reading “What’s mantra got to do with it?”

Swipe Right

Classified ads. Craigslist. Kijiji. Dating apps. All designed to help you either promote what you have or what it is you’re looking for. Everything, from long walks on the beach to a new-to-you set of summer tires, it’s all there laid out and on display. You just have to choose which direction you want to swipe. Continue reading “Swipe Right”