“Fasten your seatbelt and prepare for takeoff. And Happy Birthday to the person in 12B.”
Sometimes it is that easy to please.
It’s an annual ritual. I tell people it’s my birthday. They say happy birthday. And I am elated. Of course I was the person in 12B. “How are you today?” Cheri, the flight attendant, asked as I boarded the plane. “It’s my birthday,” I responded with a big smile.
Cheri took it from there, even giving me a gift carefully selected from among items available on a no-frills-under-two-hour flight: water, a pen, branded nature cards and a signed Band-Aid from the first aid kit.
Let other people tell you what they need. And listen.
In a business context, there are a few things that get in the way of listening:
1.We want to sell first.
We know our strengths, our services, and we talk about them before fully listening to what the client needs. That’s starting with “here’s what we do” language before asking “what challenges do you face?”
2.We don’t invest in the pre-work.
My dad, a long-time adman, gave me this great advice: “Clients will tell you more in your first conversation than any other time. Make sure you get it down.” Whether someone becomes a client or not—your first call with them during this “pre-work” phase, is gold.
3.We listen for what we expect to hear.
It’s the classic Ladder of Inference as described in Peter Senge et al’s book, The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook. That’s a reflexive loop where we hear what we expect to hear because of past experience. Then we react to what we think we’ve heard, adding meaning accordingly. This can all spiral out of control quickly, based on our prior assumptions rather than what’s before us.
People yearn to be heard and understood.
Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Think of people telling you what they need, what makes them happy, as a gift. And listen.
In the end, Cheri thanked ME on the way out for making the flight that day more fun for HER. Sometimes it is that easy. Listen. Respond. Bring joy.