There are certain skills that help your business thrive while also benefiting you personally, and being a good listener is one of them. Improving your ability to connect to everyone – from your direct reports to potential clients – can be the secret to expanding your business, retaining employees, and boosting morale. To offer guidance in building bridges between you and your colleagues, as well as your family and friends, Amanda Benson-Tilch, host of The Ask Amanda Show, turned to Sharon Brubaker, a certified life coach and credentialed grief recovery specialist with an expertise in genuine connection through better listening skills.
Listening As a Skill Set
Listening is a skill – a powerful tool and a learned process. It’s a conscious decision to listen fully to another person.
“The most powerful, precious gift you can give to anyone is to really listen to them,” Sharon said. “We’re all dying to talk and tell our story.”
Being a better listener is useful in both your personal and professional life, as it applies to effective business networking as well as a means to build deeper relationships. Experts including thought leader Simon Sinek talk about the benefits of being a good listener and being a good friend, in and outside the business sector. Building upon his belief that listening is an act of service, in a recent podcast Sinek said, “There is no greater honor than being able to serve a friend in need.”
How to Be a Good Listener
Because it’s a response you can learn, there are steps you can take to improve your aptitude for listening.
“When someone approaches us, we have to stop whatever activities we’re doing,” Sharon said. “If you come to me and you really want to tell me something and I look at my watch or I look up, you instantly know you don’t have my full attention. The number one thing we have to do is we have to listen to the person and really pay attention.”
Tips to activate your full attention include:
- Stop what you’re doing.
- Make eye contact.
- Clear your mind to become ready.
- Turn off background noise.
- Don’t look around.
“It’s a learned response and we’ve got to really jump in there, turn off all the noise and make sure it’s a quiet place,” Sharon said. “Come on friends, we can turn off our cell phones for five seconds without looking or listening to them, especially if someone is asking for your attention.”
Whether you’re seeking tools to strengthen a small business or want to forge better relationships with family members, you can’t have genuine communication without being fully present. When a person comes to you, they may start off speaking from an intellectual place, but just be there and be present, with an open heart to receive. Imagine a giant heart with two huge ears and no mouth.
“Have your heart open – just listen,” Sharon said. “When a person who is telling their story feels like you really get them and you really hear them, you can change their trajectory.”
Listen for Understanding
The average person simply wants to know that you understand. “Even if it’s negative, ugly, or broken, it’s okay. It’s their story,” Sharon said.
Listen with compassion because they’re probably feeling vulnerable already.
“It might be very tough to share and they’re trusting in you, they’re trusting you to share this with,” Amanda said. “So, it’s very important to have compassion and leave your judgment behind. It might not be what you agree with, it might not be how you live your life, and it might not be anything you align yourself with. But it’s not about you.”
You don’t have to sit silently. It’s perfectly okay to ask questions.
“You can ask questions like, ‘How did that make you feel?’ or say, ‘Oh, tell me more about that,’” Amanda said. “It lets them know you are listening to them.”
One good tactic is to ask ‘why’ questions such as:
- Why did that happen?
- Why do you think that happened?
- Why did you do that?
- Why did you go that way?
“That’s just their brain trying to figure the answer out so they can become more aligned with what’s going on,” Sharon said. “I honestly think people want you to ask questions. I love it when people ask questions because then my response is, ‘I don’t know. Let me think. Yeah, I think you’re right.’”
Expect to catch people off guard when you respond with questions, whether you’re listening to a disgruntled employee during an effective team-building session or sitting with an old friend.
“They’re probably not used to somebody really being engaged and listening to them by asking them questions,” Amanda said. “Sometimes they’re just there to vent it out, but again, don’t ask them with judgment. Ask them with compassion.”
Repeat Back What They Said
After they speak, follow up by reflecting back what you heard, putting some clarification to it and summarizing it, just to make sure that you fully understand.
“Something that I’ve witnessed a lot that happens in the workplace is an employee gets things off their chest and the manager responds with, ‘Well, this is the way it is,’” Amanda said. “It would be so much more helpful if they actually repeated back what the person said and then they could work out a solution. Even if the answer is no, there’s value in repeating back what they said because it makes them feel heard.”
Don’t Give Advice
It’s very important to understand that the person is not broken and they’re not coming to you to be fixed. From a gym partner to a small business owner building a team, people come to you because they need to share something personal, or they feel you’re a safe place or they just need to feel heard.
“I am a fixer,” Amanda said. “It took me so long to really understand how to help somebody. Sometimes they just want to be heard and it’s just a conversation. They’ll actually talk out the answer to their problem if you just let them. Fixers like me have the tendency to interrupt and tell them what we could do, and ask, ‘Why don’t we try this? Have you tried this?’ It’s because we’re the ‘idea person’ and the creativity jumps in.”
When people are sharing, there’s a brain and a heart involved.
“You’re either talking from your brain or you’re talking from your heart, so it’s either an emotional conversation or an intellectual conversation,” Sharon explained. “You’ve got to line up with the person that you’re talking to. If someone says, ‘I’m coming to you from my heart,’ the two hearts have to line up.”
For example, if someone wants to discuss a fight with their spouse and you offer to fix it, you’re bringing your brain to a discussion that should be a heart-to-heart talk. “Then the person who’s asking you to listen is not getting what they need out of it,” Sharon added. “A lot of times they can solve it on their own because something happens to the person when they hear themselves say the thing out loud. The brain and the heart line up on the same page.”
Pause Before You Speak
“Just take a pause, even if they just dumped a ton of brokenness on you,” Sharon said, “because you’re going to cause them to also pause. Breathe and listen to what you are saying. Connect with your inner voice and say to yourself, ‘How would I want to show up for me?’ and be that person.”
Don’t Change the Subject
“I can’t even tell you how often it happens that a listener is feeling uncomfortable with what has just been told because it’s too emotional, so they change the subject,” Sharon said. “The person with the broken heart knows that you are now not a safe person.”
That’s key, whether it’s dramatic and traumatic or a small disagreement with a spouse.
“I don’t always accomplish that,” Amanda said. “Sometimes I will throw in something random because it’s on my mind and then I feel like, ‘Oh no, now he knows I wasn’t paying attention.’ I was waiting for the air to stop coming out of his mouth so I could say what I wanted to say.”
A key component in the act of listening is to engage with them by asking questions, not changing the subject if you are uncomfortable with what the person is saying.
“It’s not about you. It’s not about your feeling comfortable in the situation,” Amanda said. “It’s about this person who is trusting you with whatever this information is.”
Technology and Listening
Technology has changed the landscape, both for someone trying to build a business in Los Angeles and in the style of communication used among friends and family.
“We don’t really spend a lot of one-on-one, face-to-face time with each other anymore,” Amanda said. “We text or email a lot, and in texting and emailing you lose emotion, you lose somebody’s body language.”
Without context you can’t connect to the person’s heart or connect to their mind because it’s all written. It’s the same challenge for a Santa Clarita Valley business as it is for a global corporation – company leadership has to address the use of technology and its scope at every level.
“One of the things that can harm us in the professional world is if we’re resorting to only communicating virtually with our team, our management, or our coworkers,” Amanda said. “You’re kind of losing some of what’s actually being said, so it’s really hard to listen to somebody through technology.”
Through the use of TikTok, Instagram, and other social media, detrimental habits are formed, such as quickly swiping to new content at the briefest pause.
“There are people who I don’t even talk to – only through text,” Sharon said. “The workplace is a great place to help people feel heard, because there’s so much going on in the world, along with the social media, the politics, the pain, the brokenness, everything that is happening, I could feel this shift.”
Whether you’re a corporate executive developing a business plan or creating policies for a small business, it’s a good idea to find out a person’s preferred mode of communication as a part of the interview process.
“One of my questions when I’m interviewing a candidate is ‘How do you like to be communicated with?’ because if how they communicate is not in alignment with the company, then it might not be a good fit,” Amanda said. “If they say, ‘I prefer texting only’ and there’s no texting application in place, then that might not be supported. Or if they say, ‘I really prefer one-on-one time with somebody’ and that’s not available, that might not be a good fit.”
Not all members of management who want to run a thriving business are exhibiting good listening skills.
“When I conduct team meetings, I really try to engage everybody,” Amanda said. “It’s not me just talking at them. I ask for feedback, I take notes.”
Once companies move to Zoom meetings it’s hard to see body language to pick up on issues such as employees needing help with HR problems or managers who are struggling personally.
“If you can’t see them, how do you know how somebody really feels when you’re developing new policies for your business?” Amanda added.
Much of the information coming through technology – the person-to-person relationship – is being lost.
“The person that we may be sending emails and text messages to may absolutely, 100 percent be a talker,” Sharon said. “We have to go back to our old tools, which are talking and listening.”
“We all have brokenness and emotions that we’re dying to get out but sometimes, if we’re the listener on the other side, we think, ‘I don’t want to hear this sob story,’” Sharon said. “Then that person doesn’t have a safe place to share, where they walk away feeling listened to and heard.”
If a friend, acquaintance, or workmate approaches you at a bad time, set an appointment. Whether you’re a busy L.A. business owner who needs a better marketing strategy or a full-time mommy with no room to breathe, you have to protect your time.
“If you’re running out the door to make it to your next appointment but I’m getting ready to dump on you, you can say, ‘I really want to hear this and I want to be present for you, but now is not a good time,’” Sharon explained. “We set the boundary that we aren’t going to do it right here in the doorway.”
Good boundaries are crucial in the workplace. You don’t need the best business coach in L.A. to tell you there’s value in setting a standard weekly time for meeting with people and obtaining feedback.
“Set a time for people to really be heard, to have that conversation,” Amanda said.
Some people can be high maintenance, requiring a lot of time and creating drama. It’s challenging to set boundaries with employees and colleagues who talk a lot to blow off steam and have an insatiable need to dump on you. It changes the energy of the room.
“Number one, you don’t have to be the listener,” Sharon said. “There are no rules that say you have to be the one who listens. If my neighbor keeps coming over to complain about her husband or a work colleague keeps taking my whole lunch break to complain about the manager, I don’t have to be the listener.”
The boundary you set is for you, not for them.
“We think we’re putting up a wall just to keep them out, but the boundaries are for you,” Sharon explained. “You could say, ‘Hey, I would love to sit and talk with you, but I cannot do it today. I can talk on Wednesday, but I’m telling you I only have 20 minutes.’”
After listening, you can wish them well, and in some cases, refer them to get professional help.
“You have to redirect people to the place where they can get the most help,” Sharon said.
Remember that everyone has baggage, and people bring their past experiences to the table when they interpret situations that arise. We have preconceived notions that affect the narrative we believe.
Listening skills show up in every facet of life. “It’s not just in grief work or therapy, it’s in our office, in our schools, in our churches, and in the grocery store,” Sharon said. “You literally could change someone’s life just by being an amazing listener.”
Meet the Experts
Sharon Brubaker – Grief Counselor and Certified Life Coach
As a credentialed grief counselor, Sharon teaches women how to process their thoughts and emotions when they experience times of grief and loss. After her own painful experience in the grieving process, she studied the science of grief and healing for more than 16 years. She teaches that grieving is painful, but you do not have to live with this pain for the rest of your life. True healing and peace are on the other side and once you learn to process the pain from your heart, you will begin to live again. Sharon knows that your life will be forever changed, but healing your heart is possible.
Contact Sharon if you would like a free Griever’s Guide or would like to do some individual grief work. You can connect with Sharon through her website, HealingStartsWiththeHeart.com or find her on Facebook and Instagram. She and her sister, Erica Honore, have a podcast available on Audible.
Amanda Benson-Tilch – Small Business Consulting
While you may notice her first by her wit and second by her infectious sense of humor, the next thing you’ll learn about Amanda Benson-Tilch is: She’s a problem-solver. Owner and Growth Strategist of Ask Amanda Consulting, she offers the skills, tools, and network it takes to get the job done — no matter the task.
Working with each client differently, she helps identify blocks, present solutions, implement them, and execute. And if she can’t execute, she’ll connect you to someone who can. She’s helped past clients improve their branding, operations, customer service, marketing, company culture, and more. She’s organized a company-wide rebranding and restructuring after it was bought out. And she’s helped local small businesses increase their growth without increasing the headache. From consulting to full-scale project management, Amanda steps in to help your business level up with ease.
In addition to her work with Ask Amanda, she’s also the Director of Business Development for Thomas Realty Co., a property management company in Burbank, where she oversees the growth of select tenants. Currently, she’s serving as the Managing Director of both Burbank Fitness Club and Burbank Center Apartments. Over the last year, she helped completely rebrand, renovate, and rebuild the gym, and she recently started the same process with their luxury apartments.
About The Ask Amanda Show
On any given day, small business owners and entrepreneurs spend most of their time putting out fires, solving problems and asking themselves questions like: “How do I brand this? How do I reach more people online? Why can’t I break through my revenue ceiling and reach the next level of business?” They often feel like an island – holding it all together without the support, clarity, or feedback they need to finally achieve their vision. That’s exactly why Amanda Benson-Tilch created The Ask Amanda Show. As a small business consultant, not only does she have the answers to the questions you keep asking, but she’s also created a podcast community that reminds you: You’re not alone in this journey.
Tune in once a month to get access to small business experts, nuggets of inspiration and answers to those burning questions preventing you from growth. Enjoy powerful guest interviews as Santa Clarita small business experts share their stories and provide actionable steps to help you grow your business. Whether you’re a business owner, aspiring entrepreneur, or someone looking to get more involved in your community, this is your show!