Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Better Listening Can Boost Your Bottom Line

One of the most important attributes required to propagate our success is being an active listener. In a highly technical environment like financial services, we are often praised for what we do, but beware the risks of underestimating the importance of how we do it. That small, but important, difference is often the separation point between good and excellent.

Now Hear This: Better Listening Can Boost Your Bottom Line
Article published on February 2, 2015
By Clare Trapasso

Everyone knows how to listen. But few individuals are good listeners, a crucial skill for salespeople striving to seal deals with clients, marketing and product development professionals collaborating on campaigns and investment teams deciding where to allocate assets.

Firms such as Legg MasonJanus and Prudential Financial coach asset management workers on how to eliminate distractions and focus on the person talking as a way to forge stronger relationships.

“The challenge, of course, is that it’s not necessarily an innate skill, but it’s a learned skill,” Matt Schiffman, Legg Mason’s global head of marketing, says about listening.

About a year ago, the Baltimore-based firm rolled out a training program to help its sales force better absorb what clients are saying.

“More junior salespeople are typically anxious to get their message across, [and] in doing that, they inadvertently trample over or ignore what is being said to them,” he says. “They’re so caught up in themselves that they’re not pausing, asking the right questions, or responding in a way that demonstrates that they are in fact listening.”

Legg’s training program asks wholesalers to role-play real-life scenarios, such as what questions to ask during a second meeting with a financial advisor and what information they should play back from the first encounter.

“We recommend [that] people take notes and check for and validate the information they’re receiving,” Schiffman says about repeating back information to an advisor. “It suggests … that what the person has to say has value.”

Developing listening skills through role-playing is also a component of Prudential Financial’s professional development curriculum, a combination of classroom and Web-based training available to all of its employees.

“It literally requires practice and drilling for it automatically to become second nature,” says Kurt Metzger, VP of talent management at Prudential Financial.

He recommends that workers turn their e-mail off and clean off their desks before having an important conversation so as to minimize potential distractions.

“It sounds amazingly obvious, but people don’t do it,” Metzger says. “Create space so you’re in a position to listen.”

John Evans Jr., executive director of Janus Labs, part of the Denver, Colo.-based Janus Capital Group, recommends that professionals slip their iPhones in their pockets, make eye contact and direct their full attention to the person who is speaking.

Being able to articulate your clients’ or colleagues’ ideas and concerns back to them after a meeting is a test of your listening skills, he says.

“So often in our industry, because we’re so busy and so incredibly time-sensitive, we listen to clients with the intention to reply, [as] opposed to listening to fully understand what their issue is,” he says. “When you can articulate the other party’s interests better than she or he can … that allows you to deliver your value proposition customized to the client.”

Making a production of shutting off your phone to give a client your full attention, driven home by saying it out loud, also makes a good impression, says San Francisco–based communication coach Carmine Gallo, who has written eight books on how to succeed in business.

“I always hear the same thing: ‘I wish my boss was a better listener,’” Gallo says. “What they mean is, ‘I want to be heard.’”

Jen Shirkani, CEO of the Penumbra Group, a Bedford, N.H.-based leadership development consultant specializing in financial firms, recommends that professionals “listen” to body language as well.

“If somebody’s uncomfortable with a situation, they might say they agree,” she says. “But their body language would suggest otherwise. They might look away. They might have their arms folded or crossed. Their tone might be hesitant.”

There are so few good listeners that being an adept one can help individuals stand out from the crowd.

“People seek you out for your counsel, your opinions,” she says. “That adds up to more influence.”

Clare Trapasso is a print and multimedia journalist at the New York Daily News with experience writing breaking news and feature stories in urban and rural communities.

As a general assignment reporter on the Daily News’ Queens Bureau and Metro Desk, she covers everything from schools being closed, to naked bike rides, to grisly murders, local politics and everything in-between.

Prior to that, she was an Associated Press reporter in the wire service’s New Hampshire Bureau. During the six-month assignment, she covered state and national news and put together several multimedia projects. She also edited stories and wrote broadcast news.

She became passionate about journalism at the State University of New York at Purchase College, where she graduated with a B.A. in journalism in 2002. In her senior year, she created a campus women's newspaper called The Cycle.

After receiving her undergraduate degree, she joined the Peace Corps. She was sent to Independent Samoa in the South Pacific, where she learned Samoan and taught college-level journalism classes in the capitol.

When she returned to America, she began graduate school. In 2007, she earned a M.A. in Journalism from New York University. As a student, she interned for the Daily News and The Village Voice. After graduation, she did an internship in the Associated Press New York City Bureau.

Clare Trapasso is interested in writing stories that can effect change. She can be contacted at claretrap@gmail.com.

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