Harvey Mackay Academy's Blog

Listening is in danger of becoming a lost art. This dated anonymous anecdote just about sums it up.

When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving advice, you have not done what I asked.

When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings.

When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problems, you have failed me, strange as that may seem.

All I ask is that you listen. Not talk or do, just hear me. Advice is cheap: 50 cents will get you both Dear Abby and Dr. Spock in the same newspaper. And I can do for myself, I’m not helpless. Maybe discourage and faltering, but not helpless.

When you do something for me that I can and need to do for myself, you contribute to my fear and weakness. But when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I quit trying to convince you and can get about the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling.

And when that’s clear, the answers are obvious, and I don’t need advice. So, please listen and just hear me, and if you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn, and I will listen to you.

To remind us all, March is International Listening Month.

Listening is just as important to business. When Charles Wang’s family arrived in America, they had only two suitcases. Wang, now a multi-billionaire, said his company grew because they listened to their clients. While most computer companies sell people what they need, Wang decided to ask customers what they wanted.

Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, said: “The key to success is to get out into the store and listen to what the associates have to say. It’s terribly important for everyone to get involved. Our best ideas come from clerks and stockboys.”

Walton once took his corporate plane to Mt. Pleasant, TX, and told the pilot to pick him up 100 miles or so down the road. He jumped in a Walmart truck and rode the rest of the way to “chat with the driver.” I suspect he let the driver do most of the talking.

Norman Brinker, the former chairman of the restaurant chain Chili’s, said responsive communication is the key to good relations with both employees and shareholders. It pays huge dividends. Almost 80 percent of Chili’s menu came from suggestions made by unit managers.

Too many salespeople talk when they should listen. Ben Feldman was the first salesperson to crack the $25 million mark in a calendar year. And then doubled that figure. He was New York Life’s leading sales rep for more than two decades, and he did this in the small town of East Liverpool, Ohio. When asked his secret, he said:

  1. Work hard.
  2. Think big.
  3. Listen very well.

The Healthline website shares these tips for learning active listening:

Give people your full attention. Concentrate on their words to the exclusion of everything else. Don’t plan your response while they’re still speaking, and don’t use a pause to steer the conversation around to another topic.

Use positive body language. Your body communicates just as much as your words do, if not more. Make sure you’re fully facing the other person. Relax your body but lean in slightly to show interest in what they’re saying. Make eye contact. Nod to show you’re listening and you understand.

Don’t interrupt. You may be tempted to jump in with an idea or solution. Restrain the impulse. Instead, wait to start talking before asking questions or offering your point of view.

The story is told of Franklin Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.”  The guests responded with phrases like, “Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir.” It was not until the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming.”

Mackay’s Moral: If you want people to listen to you, you must listen to them.

About the Author

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.