Customer gurus and technology companies push the need for the company to listen to the voice of the customer. Many companies, especially large companies, buy what they are selling. Indeed, it makes sense: listen to the voice of the customer through some manner of surveying customers seems complimentary to conducting regular market research.
HR gurus and technology companies push the need for the company to listen to the voice of the employee. In the service of this sale frightening soundbites are put forward about the state of employee engagement – disengagement is rife and getting worse. What happens, organisations set up once a year surveys of their employees in order to listen to their employees. Ok, some do it twice a year. Maybe, a handful do it quarterly.
Is this listening? You may be convinced that this is listening. I do not find myself in agreement with you. I say that listening is a specific encounter between one human being and another human being or human beings. I say that listening really takes something – it takes a dropping of the self to enter into and get the world of the other. I say that listening rarely occurs inside and outside the workplace – we simply do not have cultural practices that teach us to listen nor call us to listen.
For a moment, let’s assume that surveying customers and/or employees is listening to customers / employees. Is this listening complete? Put differently, have your heard all that your customers / employees are saying? Before you come to a definitive answer I consider the following:
When a man whose marriage was in trouble sought his advice, the Master said, “You must learn to listen to your wife.”
The man took this advice to heart and returned after a month to say that he had learned to listen to every word his wife was saying.
The Master smiled and replied, “Now go home and listen to every word she isn’t saying.”
Be with this for a moment. Doesn’t the profound truth of this hit you? One can listen at many levels for the speaking is occurring at many levels AND to truly listen to another person it is necessary to listen to the speaking that is silent.
I invite you to consider the following:
- Listening to the voice of the customer and/or the voice of the employee through surveying is the pretence of listening. It is not listening.
- Even the best designed survey will not give you access to the speaking that is silent.
- Listening of the kind that really hears can only take place when you genuinely respect and care for the person you are listening to. At a very minimum it requires a deep sense / feel of our shared humanity.
- The only real world evidence that listening has occurred is a change in the way that you/your organisation is in the world. By “is” I mean the way that one shows up and travels in the world: being-doing.
- Good strategists, leaders, managers, sales people, customer service folk have to be great at listening to the silent speaking.
I thank you for your listening and wish you a good day. Until the next time…