m-scott-peckCustomer Service pays—especially when we pay—attention!

The late Dr. M. Scott Peck, Psychiatrist (1936-2005), calls listening “The Work of Attention” and writes, “Listening well is an exercise of attention and by necessity hard work. It is because they do not realize this or because they are not willing to do the work that most people do not listen well.” (The Road Less Traveled, 1978)

When we do not willing to work at attentiveness and listening we may fall prey to our own methods of non- and fake-listening. Dr. Peck helps us see our five approaches to doing this with children. Here is a summary:

  1. No talk rule. “Children are to be seen and not heard.” At home or in the classroom talking and listening may have been curtailed as a practical way to get on with work and get things done.
  2. Taking allowed without listening. The child is talking away and no one is listening or even pretending to.
  3. Pretend listening. Peck writes, “We make ‘uh-huh’ or ‘that’s nice’ noises at more or less appropriate times in response to the monologue.” Similarly, as adults we’ve experienced the customer service person who’s got other things on their mind rather than focusing on helping us. We quickly sense we are creating imposition or inconvenience for them as their customer.
  4. Selective listening. Peck says this is a higher form of pretend listening. We actually try to occasionally jump in with what the person’s saying in an effort to let them know we care.

This comes from our erroneous belief in the value of multi-tasking. We think we are working better if we are doing two or more things at once. But this is not true.

Dr. Sandra Chapman writes, “The truth is, your brain is not designed to do more than one thing at a time. It literally cannot achieve this, except in very rare circumstances. Instead, it toggles back and forth from one task to the next. For example, when you are driving while talking on the phone, your brain can either use its resources to drive or to talk on the phone, but never both.” (Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., Forbes Online, May 8, 2013)

  1. Active listening. Peck says this is, to “truly listen…to give your full and complete attention, weighing each word and understanding each sentence.”

Steven R. Covey (1932–2012), writes, “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Then he asks, “Communication is the most important skill in life. You spend years learning how to read and write, and years learning how to speak. But what about listening? What training have you had that enables you to listen so you really, deeply understand another human being? Probably none, right?” (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, 1989)

Here are the five elements for Active Listening. This list is adapted from MindTools.com.

First, Pay Attention: Put aside distracting thoughts. Don’t listen for ammunition and for preparing a rebuttal. Avoid all external distractions. “Listen” to the speaker’s body language.

Second, Show That You’re Listening: Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention. Nod occasionally. Smile and use other facial expressions. Note your posture and make sure it is open and inviting. Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes, and uh huh.

Third, Be Politely Interactive: Reflect what has been said by paraphrasing and summarizing occasionally with phrases like, “What I’m hearing is,” and “Sounds like you are saying…” Or, by clarifying with, “What do you mean when you say?” and, “Is this what you mean?”

Fourth, Defer Judgment: Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message. Allow the speaker to finish each point before asking questions.

Fifth, Respond Appropriately: Avoid arguing and getting defensive. Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting them down. Be candid, open, and honest in your response. Assert your opinions respectfully. Treat the other person in a way that you think he or she would want to be treated.

In customer service and all relationships, it pays to pay attention. Let’s invest ourselves in attentiveness. Otherwise we’ll also pay, instead of getting paid.

“Say, ‘Hey!’” for excellent customer service!

First published in John  Parker’s Central  Valley Business Journal column “At Your Service.”