Listen Twice as Much as You Speak
“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”―
If you're a salesperson or ever read a sales book, you're probably familiar with the concept of getting the other person to talk about their needs first.
In improv, which I've written about before, listening is critical: you're making up things on the spot with your team and if you're not listening to everything being said and established, you'll mess up the scene—literally—for the others. For example, if you don't hear that someone was labeled "Brian" and instead call them "Larry," the audience is pulled out of the story. Or if you didn't hear someone call their scene partner their sister and you label them their wife....You get the picture.
But listening is just as important to non-sales people (and non-improvisers).
If you work with clients, actively listening will show that you care and respect them, and will probably get you better feedback on your product/service. They also are more likely to stick around longer since they feel heard.
If you have employees, listening is a great way to develop them professionally. Obviously be there to support them, but instead of offering solutions, ask some targeted questions and let them (with your subtle help and guidance) figure it out for themselves.
Regardless of the setting, there is never a reason to plan what you're going to say instead of listening to what's being said. If you're afraid you'll get stuck, you can always summarize what you heard, which will make the other person feel even more appreciated and will give you time to gather your thoughts.
It's also okay to ask more questions and admit you need to look into something and get back to the person. No one is expected to know everything.
What is not okay is to obviously be doing something else or not paying attention. This is telling the person loud and clear that they don't matter, so don't expect that relationship to last.
Takeaway: Active listening can be your (or your company's) competitive advantage since it's that powerful and clearly indicates respect.