The Three Secrets of Effective Listening

Listening is a skill that most people don’t posses.

Anyone can hear a complaint or a recommendation to improve your business. Most everyone can understand what it is being said. Few people will actually have the ability to relate what they just heard to their business, create a plan of action to implement what is needed, and have the humility to recognize that an outside opinion may be right.

Listening conflicts with a person’s innate need to put themselves above others.

There are three secrets to effective listening:

  1. Ensure there are two willing parties to the conversation.  Not everyone who provides feedback wants an answer or even to be listened.  Many of the complaints filed are simply a cathartic move to release frustration.  You should still listen to it, but prioritize who you will listen to first.  If you focus on comments that call for  specific change pr action you will find the highest return on listening investment.
  2. Focus on the message, not the function of communicating. The message is what is worth listening to, not the channel on which it is transmitted.  You should seek feedback in as many different ways as possible, even venture into new channels (such as social media) to gather feedback. That simply provides two participants and a common channel, that is the easy part.  Focus on the content of the message instead of the act, you will get better results.
  3. Determine a specific action to take, and implement it. Research has shown that less than five percent of companies act on feedback they receive.  Doing something about the feedback received, also called closing the loop, is very hard.  The organization has to acknowledge they could do  things better and to determine steps to  take (from the strategic as well as feasibility sides) to accommodate the feedback.  And implement it.  And make sure it works as expected.  Customer engagement increases dramatically for companies that close the loop versus those that don’t.

It is critical that the right people be put where listening, and acting, is required.

Do you know the right person in your organization?

12 Replies to “The Three Secrets of Effective Listening”

  1. Great post Esteban. To add to point #2 listen deeply and go beyond the actual complaint to understand the root cause of the customer complaint.

    For example, the customer may be complaining about the colors you have used in your design. This may have far less to do with the actual colors than with the fact that they happen to be color blind and the choice of colors makes the product impossible to use. What might sound like trivial complaining may be a deep problem, always seek to get at that root cause.



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  3. I was thinking the same thing as John actually! I definitely didn’t put it as eloquent as he did though:

    I do think a lot of organizations need to “get over themselves” first and accept maybe they don’t always know best, which is obviously the first (and maybe the most important) step. Otherwise, the rest of it is all for naught because they wont walk away with actionable items.


  4. Good discussion, here.

    On a personal level, listen with the intent to understand, not to argue. If you are meeting the person complaining in person, step out behind barriers such as desks and display cases. Watch your body language (relax).

    I’ll be reading.


  5. Great post — I’m enjoying the blog.

    One point…I think you might have misinterpreted the Gartner quote. It’s not that only 5% of companies act on the feedback. The quote was that “only 5 percent *inform customers* what they have done with that feedback”.

    Nearly all the companies we see respond fast to “red flag’ feedback…but the best of them make a daily habit of touching base with the majority of respondents who are either mostly positive or exclusively positive. IMO, this is what separates the greats from the goods.


  6. You would have thought that since I originated the quote while at Gartner, I would have gotten that right 🙂

    Thanks for pointing it out. It is true, sadly. 5% close the loop (inform people what they did with the feedback), but still I think it was 10-12% or so that acted on Feedback. 95% collected feedback, about half monitored it effectively over time, and just 10-12% actually did something… and even less told their customers what they did.

    And, btw, even though that study is not some 2-3 years gold, things have changed slightly. Still the 5% of closing the loop remains the same as it was, we just have higher numbers of people acting on it and monitoring effectively (I am going to have to track the new numbers and post an update.)


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