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The Art of Listening: Lessons Learned from the Samaritans

Listening may seem like a simple act, but in reality, it's a skill that requires conscious effort and practice. Many of us believe we are good listeners, yet we often find ourselves formulating responses or passing judgment instead of truly understanding the speaker's message. This tendency can lead to misunderstandings and missed details, highlighting the complexity of effective listening.

 

The Illusion of Listening

Even in professional settings like market research, where asking questions and recording answers are routine, the true essence of listening is often overlooked. While we think we know what listening entails, the reality is that we are surprisingly bad at it, and no one provides formal training to hone our listening skills.

 

As an ex-market researcher turned Samaritan volunteer, the journey to becoming a skilled listener proved to be both eye-opening and humbling. The Samaritans, known for their empathetic listening, challenged my preconceptions about my ability to truly hear others.

 

A Lesson in Humility

The Samaritans' training course, spanning many weeks, involved a diverse group of volunteers. From age differences to varied appearances, it was a cross-section of society. As an observer with a research background, I initially found myself falling into the trap of making judgments and holding onto prejudices. However, the first lesson was clear – I must suspend judgment.

 

Role Plays and Realisations

The training was intensive, featuring numerous role plays. Initially, I struggled to resist the urge to interject with questions or share my own experiences. The hardest part, I discovered, was maintaining silence. Listeners often unintentionally interrupt, distract, or judge, hindering the speaker's ability to share their story in their own time and words.

 

Allowing the Speaker to Lead

Over time, I learned the importance of holding back, resisting the impulse to take control of the conversation. Allowing the speaker to guide the discussion led to a deeper understanding and increased comfort for the caller. It was a transformative realisation – the power of silence and empathetic listening.

 

The Nervous Transition to Practice

As the training progressed, we transitioned from the classroom to taking actual calls. The nervousness was palpable, especially when faced with soft-spoken callers or those with challenging accents. Some stories were so distressing and surreal that determining their authenticity was a challenge.

 

A Graduation in Listening

Reflecting on the journey as a Samaritan listener, I feel a mix of humility and embarrassment. It's a constant learning process, but the rewards are immense. The ability to truly listen, offering minimal but empathetic responses, creates a therapeutic experience for the caller.

 

The Relevance to Customer Experience

Why discuss listening on a customer experience platform? Because delivering outstanding customer experience requires a genuine understanding of the customer's journey. Listening is the backbone of empathy, and assuming that those responsible for customer experience inherently possess this skill is a perilous assumption.

 

Test Your Listening Skills

To put your listening skills to the test, explore the Samaritans listening wheel on our website. It serves as a reminder that effective listening is not just a personal skill but a crucial element in building meaningful connections, be it in customer experiences or in everyday interactions.

 

In the end, the art of listening is not just about hearing words; it's about truly understanding the emotions, thoughts, and experiences behind them.

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