Prepare for Succession by Asking Questions & Listening

Monday, July 26 2021

Owner: “Has anyone seen my glasses?”

Account Manager: “Do you have any new information on the Smith project?”

Owner: “I know I left them here somewhere…”

Account Manager: “You know, we could lose our shirts on this one…”

Owner: “Just a minute… maybe they’re in my briefcase…”

Account Manager: “I mean, one slip, one delayed supplier and we’re screwed…”

Owner: “Hmm. Not there. Maybe I left them in my jacket…”

Account Manager: “Do you think we should take this account or not?”

Owner: “Ah, here they are. What were you saying?”

Listening. One of the most important, yet underrated and underdeveloped skills in society today.

This exchange could easily have been a monologue by one person and an ‘inner dialogue’ by the other. In this case, the owner, who couldn’t find the glasses was distracted and not paying attention to the account manager, who was looking for guidance. The account manager failed to recognize that the boss was not registering any of the conversation. Two ships passing in the night. Eventually they might work out a reasonable conclusion to the meeting, but how much was missed, misunderstood or misinterpreted?

I have been a lifetime champion of asking questions – how else can you sell a solution, understand what’s important to your suppliers, know what’s bothering your spouse…? If you don’t ask intelligent, meaningful, sincere, sometimes tough questions, how can you be of service to anyone?

But asking questions is just the first step.

To truly be of service or have a meaningful discussion, you also have to listen. With ears wide open. With attention focused on the other person. With body language that says I’m here with you – facing them directly; leaning forward; nodding encouragingly; smiling at the right time; or raising an eyebrow when you hear something interesting.

Achieve Meaningful Dialogue:

  • Make time to talk. Set up regular meetings with your employees.
  • Meet in a quiet, private space.
  • Put your devices or papers aside. Don’t get distracted.
  • Be curious. People love to talk about themselves. Discover their passions.
  • Ask permission to take notes about the essence of what you hear.
  • Listen with a goal in mind. What’s the purpose of the meeting? Listen for clues that you’re both working toward the same outcome.
  • Attend to the emotions and meanings behind the words. Read between the lines.
  • Seek clarity. Use open-ended questions to encourage and closed-ended ones to clarify.
  • Confirm that you are on the same page, “So, if I understand you correctly, what you’re saying is…”
  • Don’t jump to conclusions.

Being a good listener will build trust and respect, and if you know what others want, you can help them to get it.