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My Ears Are Hurting

By Joey Havens

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Life lessons learned at the airport have become almost commonplace for me and last week’s trip was no exception. As I sat in seat 19C, I opened my Kindle to finish the latest book in the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child. I was barely halfway down the first page when I felt it. Someone was staring at me, and it was the lady sitting right next to me in the window seat. “Oh no,” I thought. “I have a talker.” A situation that is a big threat to an introvert like myself.

I had just completed a presentation to a group of executives that morning and this was the first leg of my trip home so my energy level was past zero. (Introverts understand this expended energy level when actively engaging with others.)  I was certainly in need of a recharge and my goal was to get lost in a fun book. When I am in recuperation mode, I crave snippets of solitude or silence. No talking and most of all — no engaging in social chit-chat. I find that a quiet break is both restorative and rejuvenating for me. 

I did not dare look up or to my right even though I felt a continual stare. Then it happened, the slight nudge on my right arm and clearing of her throat, “Are you headed home?” she asked. “Yes.” “Are you traveling on business?” “Yes.” Completely unfettered she continued, “Do you travel a lot?” “Sometimes.” Now that she had drawn me into conversation with questions focused on me, my simple responses (I did smile with each, sort of) had clearly given her the confidence to launch into the “about me” portion of her conversation.

Halfway through the flight my ears began to hurt. I knew about her shoulder surgery, cousin’s prostate cancer, recent house hunting excursions. I knew more about her and her family than I did my own.

And I really hate to make this transition, but it was crystal clear to me — this is exactly how a client or prospect has to feel when they open a proposal or sit through a sales pitch and everything is about our services, what we do, how trusted we are and what a quality firm we are. You can literally see client’s eyes glaze over when we start down the road of “here’s who we are and a list of all of our services.”

How hard is it to make the conversation, proposal and meeting totally focused on the client and their businesses? Are we hurting our client’s ears?

Let’s change our strategy to be more client-centric. Let’s listen with the goal of understanding and anticipating their needs more effectively. Focusing on the client is a simple idea, but a difficult one to do well. Who was your last conversation, proposal and meeting focused on? Let’s commit to stop hurting our client’s ears.