Are you wondering why your clients don't stay with you? Are you feeling frustrated that your business is not growing as quickly as you would like?
Perhaps you are not truly listening to their unique needs.
The act of listening is not something that we are taught at school. At least not where I grew up. We are taught to read and write, but we are not taught how to listen. I also was not taught how to listen at home. Growing up, my family all seemed to talk at the same time. We talked over each other in order to get our voice heard, because we were more concerned with what we had to say than listening to anyone else!
This certainly was not helping us to connect as a family.
Effective listening skills are critical in any business and connecting with others in any aspect of life. Whether you are a yoga teacher, health or wellness coach, web designer, professional speaker or leader, internet marketer, or manager of a team of employees, you must listen to your clients or team in order to understand their needs, connect with them and help them to be successfull.
Through my various health coaching, running coaching and yoga teacher training courses, I have been taught a variety of different listening skills techniques over the years. I continue to practice these in all aspects of my life, not only in my business. That said, it is an ongoing practice to enhance our listening skills. I've put together this helpful list below of 9 of my favorite top tips for listening skills so I can refer back to these and continue to practice. I hope you also find these helpful for your busines and for your life in general.
Open-ended questions require a descriptive answer, not just a yes or no. These may be questions that you have pre-prepared, for example before holding an interview or meeting with a new client, or they could be follow-up questions based on something your client says. You can also ask questions to clarify that you understand what they have told you, for example "Let me clarify, you're saying that your goal is to get rid of the pain in your low back?" A follow-up open-ended question might be "Can you describe the type of pain you're experiencing and what appears to make the pain worse?" or "How does the pain make you feel emotionally?". Open-ended questions help to guide the conversation and encourage your client to tune in and open up fully. It's a very effective way to allow the client to feel heard.
By the law of synchronicity, it is highly likely that a client that comes to see you may be struggling with an issue that you may have experienced yourself at some point in your life. If this is the case, it will be relatively easy to put yourself in their shoes, or so to speak. Think back to that situation in your own life and visualize how you felt at that time. If you have not experienced what they're describing before, try to imagine what it would be like. Paint a picture in your mind, feel yourself in that situation, or visualize how their life is in that situation. This will help you to feel more empathy and demonstrate that you understand. Your client will naturally feel more of a connection with you.
You may not agree with, nor be able to understand, what your client is telling you. However, it's important to keep an open mind so that he or she feels safe with you and so they do not feel judged in any way. When we feel judged or not understood, we may begin to doubt ourselves and feel that we might be wrong or strange for feeling a certain way or for having certain ideas or thoughts. Staying open minded may even allow you to learn something new from your client that you had not previously considered.
The most important aspect of body language is to maintain eye contact when you are listening. This is obviously only possible if you are in person with that person. You can also nod every so often, and lean in towards them slightly, as appropriate. It can often be helpful to take notes as well. This demonstrates that you are hearing and recording what they say, and you can refer back to your notes at a later time, either for follow up questions or during a future conversation. Body Language is obviously not possible when talking over the phone, so I recommend some brief audible acknowledgements every so often so they know you are still there and listening, whilst making sure not to interrupt.
This is one of the worst mistakes people make when having a conversation with someone else. It's important to give your client time to talk and explain themselves, describing the problems they are facing, how they feel and what their goals are, and sharing what they wish to share. It is often tempting to interrupt or finish their sentences for them. This can happen if you are feeling impatient or think you know what they are going to say, or perhaps if you have advice that you want to offer quickly. All this can be frustrating for the client. They may feel intimidated, or feel that you are in a rush or impatient with them. By interrupting in this way, you may also be making assumptions and not keeping an open mind nor allowing them to provide all the information you need in order to help them. They may lose their train of thought and you'll never hear the rest of their story which could be important information. Particularly if you are with a client, remember the conversation is about them, not about you. Your purpose right now is to listen!
It's important to clear your mind and stop your own mind chatter in order to really listen effectively. I'm sure you have a long list of things to do once your client leaves or when you finish your conversation with them. You might be feeling hungry, cold or tired, or thinking about what you're going to do once they've gone. However, it's important to be fully present with your client, and not let your own thoughts get in the way. Focus entirely on them and their uniqueness. Thoughts will come into your mind. This is natural because it's the human condition that our mind likes to think! Try to let these thoughts come and go like clouds in the sky, not attaching to the thoughts, nor the stories that are created from these thoughts. Use your client's voice, their body language, and visualizations of what they are telling you, to bring you back into the present moment and bring your focus back to what they are saying and feeling. If you struggle with clearing your mind, I recommend practicing a few minutes of meditation prior to meeting with each client. This will help to clear your mind from the previous client and from your own life, and you'll be creating a new space, available and ready to be fully present for your next client. Read our helpful meditation tips here.
We've all heard of the phrase "silence is golden". I invite you to take a long, slow, deep breath and pause for a few moments, before responding to your client. We often respond too quickly because we want to talk in order to fill a gap of silence. However, this moment of stillness and silence will likely help both of you to relax, tune in and be present with each other, and perhaps even hear some inner wisdom and guidance. Similar to meditation, when we take a few moments of silence, it helps to relax the mind and can help us to come up with a wiser decision or action. You may find your client begins to speak more from their heart and their intuition, rather than from their head. It will also help your client to realize you are truly listening and considering what they just said, instead of jumping in with your own voice as soon as they take a breath. Give it a try and don't be fearful of that moment of silence. Remember to breathe!
Tell your client you understand how they must feel, even if you do not truly understand. This can help to deepen the relationship and connection between you because your client will feel understood, respected and cared for. It will help them to feel that they are in a safe environment where they can open up and possibly share more information with you, without judgement. You could say something like "I understand how frustrated you must feel" then follow up with an open-ended question "What emotions come up for you when you feel like this?".
Often when someone tells us a story or about a situation, we respond by telling them a similar story about ourselves. I believe we do this because it's how our mind can relate to what they are saying. We may also think it helps them to connect with us because we are demonstrating that we have experienced something similar. This is partially true and it can be helpful at times. However, there is a time and place for sharing our story. It's important that you focus on your listening skills first and only share your story when and if it is done in a way that is beneficial for your client. When we share our story too soon, we are no longer listening to the other person. We are turning the conversation and attention onto ourselves. Instead, take the time to allow your client to finish what he or she is saying and keep the conversation focused on them, with open-ended questions, empathy, a moment of silence, appropriate body langugage and an open and compassionate mind!
It may take some time to change your behavior and how you communicate with, and listen to, your clients, family and friends, so try not to get frustrated if you catch yourself slipping back into your old habits with your next few interactions or client meetings. It takes practice, just like anything.
I found it helpful to practice by role-playing in a safe environment with a friend or family member and receiving feedback. Perhaps share this list of listening tips with them and ask them to give you their honest and open feedback at the end of the role-playing session on how well you did for each tip, and any areas for improvement. You may be surprised at their feedback because we often don't realize how we are communicating with others. Either way, life is a continuous journey of transformation and change. I still catch myself slipping up on a few of these from time to time. I just love having this list to refer back to though!
Author: Sally Mitchell, founder of Body Flows Yoga Retreats and RYT 200 Yoga Teacher leads yoga retreats in the USA, Mexico and Costa Rica. Living in beautiful Sonoma, California, after 15 years in NYC and San Francisco, Sally's approach as a leader and teacher is holistic, balanced and grounded. She enjoys practicing and studying yoga, hiking and trail running in nature, traveling, writing, blogging and inspiring others to live a more spiritual and meaningful life.