Executives at every level like to think they are great communicators. It is perhaps a natural assumption if you happen to be a competent public speaker and are used to having colleagues and subordinates accept your opinions and defer to your instructions.
But effective communication is not simply about what you say. It is just as much about how well you listen, and that is a skill that too many people in the world of business - and elsewhere - still fail to appreciate.
"It has been shown that about 75 per cent of what you hear is usually misunderstood or misinterpreted," says Sidney Yuen, chief executive and chairman of HBC, who will conduct a full-day "Listening Leaders" workshop on November 25, jointly organised with Classified Post. "But once you understand the power of listening and apply the techniques to improve, it will make you better as an employer and employee while helping your personal and family life."
Yuen, who has more than 20 years' training and development experience in the corporate world, began to focus on this area about three years ago after reading Listening Leaders by Lyman Steil and Richard Bommelje. It made him realise that executive education today is heavily skewed towards themes such as public speaking and team building. In most organisations, little or no attention is given to developing the specific skill of listening, and the results of that oversight are often all too apparent, he says.
One can simply ask employees whose feedback is unsought or routinely ignored. The same goes for anyone who has ever had to battle with a multiple-choice customer hotline or been bounced between departments while being assured by a recorded message that "your call is important to us".
"You see so many cases of companies not listening well, where they lose sales or mess up customer loyalty," Yuen says. "It happens every day in the telecoms, retail, restaurant, hotel and credit card sectors. A lack of listening ability leads to customer attrition and, once lost, they won't come back."
Essentially, he notes, organisations make the mistake - even in specially convened customer focus groups - of hearing only what they want to hear. And individuals habitually suffer from "head waiter syndrome": phrasing questions and steering conversations to get the answer they need rather than encouraging honest feedback.
At the workshop, Yuen will outline how and why these problems occur before introducing 10 life-changing rules and practical techniques to make anyone a better listener.
The programme will show participants how to build the foundations of effective dialogue with a systematic approach, case studies and real-life examples. It will also touch on the importance of total attention, as opposed to multitasking, and interpreting clues from verbal signs and body language that convey a big part of any message.
"There are skills to learn and specific things to achieve, which can make the course a life-changing experience," Yuen says. "At the beginning, a survey will provide unique profiles for each person, reconfirming what they are good at and identifying what they lack so that by the end of the day they can see the benefits and really understand how to use the power of listening." He says most people like to think they are good listeners, so it can come as quite a surprise to find out how others perceive them, to realise where they are going wrong and what they are missing.
The key aims of the workshop are to create self-awareness, teach skills and develop specific plans for individuals to use in the workplace.
This will have a near-immediate impact on interaction with colleagues and, where applicable, on dealings with external contacts and customers. Of course, though, the knowledge and techniques are just as useful outside the work environment.
"A lot of companies use customer-centric jargon, but they do not practise what they preach," Yuen says. "You need clear processes and the right skills. Our training will help people to improve communication by listening to staff and customers and will show them that better listeners are better leaders."
Date November 25, 2010 (Thursday)
Time 9am to 4.30pm
Venue Marco Polo Hongkong Hotel, Tsim Sha Tsui
Fees HK$3,200 standard rate; HK$2,900 early bird rate (until November 6)