Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

Mick Jagger, the wise old sage, said that you can’t always get what you want.  But if you try sometimes, well you might find, you get what you need.

But what if I want what I want?  I’ve been thinking about this lately. Businesses often find themselves advising customers and clients concerning what they need to accomplish their goals. However, all too often, businesses and organizations don’t first listen to what people really want before telling them what they need.

The other day I was warming up before my morning run and I heard a personal trainer nearby talking with a client. She was telling him that he needed to do more of a certain exercise. The man was telling the trainer that his doctor didn’t want him to do this exercise, but the trainer kept saying, “no pain, no gain.”  Finally the man stopped doing what he was doing and said, “Look, I just had an MRI and my doctor told me not to do this type of activity!”  The trainer seemed surprised and said, “Well why didn’t you tell me?”  Obviously, she just wasn’t listening.

Listening to our customers and clients is not only respectful, it’s essential if you really want to meet their wants, needs and desires. No one wants to be told what they need, or should do, without someone listening to them first. This is how relationships are built. And, relationships are everything.

Only by understanding what other people want, and how they perceive their situation, will we be able to assist them in an valuable way. Some may express a desire for something that isn’t possible. But only through active listening will you be able to help determine what is possible, what alternatives exist, and how to best support them.

Those engaged in marketing efforts must keep this in mind at all times. If you don’t understand where your target audiences are coming from, you won’t effectively reach them where they are.  Providing choices, alternatives and solutions is what successful businesses and organizations do. Failure to recognize this ensures that relationships are never developed, engagement doesn’t occur, and people will seek assistance elsewhere.

I experienced this when I was looking for services for my own business. I had many different people telling me what I need, but very few listened to what I hoped to accomplish.

The Harvard Business Review published an interesting article based on significant research that tried to identify what effective listening actually looks like. Among their findings was the following:

Good listening is much more than being silent while the other person talks. To the contrary, people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight.

Good listening included interactions that build a person’s self-esteem. The best listeners made the conversation a positive experience for the other party, which doesn’t happen when the listener is passive (or, for that matter, critical!).  Listening only to identify key points for debate isn’t effective.

Good listening was seen as a cooperative conversation. In these interactions, feedback flowed smoothly in both directions with neither party becoming defensive about comments the other made.

Good listeners tended to make suggestions. Good listening invariably included some feedback provided in a way others would accept and that opened up alternative paths to consider.

With so much discussion taking place concerning the importance of building relationships, achieving engagement, and ultimately building loyalty, it’s somewhat surprising that so little effective listening actually takes place. So, remember, Mick isn’t always right. Sometimes people should get what they want – period.

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