There are a lot of things that women do to excel in business: taking classes, buying the perfect power suit, read the newest business books, chairing committees, going to networking events, to name a few. But what if I told you that the most important business skills are things that you have been doing since you were in kindergarten? Two skills that women have been socialized to excel at our entire lives? These two skills are so important, that if they were more widely used they would revolutionize the world of business. They are: asking questions and listening.
Yes, these two things sound incredibly simple. However, if you bring these strengths to work with you, they have the power to strengthen business ties, dazzle clients and make you a lot of money.
A lot of business problems are rooted in the assumption that we know what a client or customer wants instead of asking them. It’s a costly and often embarrassing mistake.
This goes against the idealized vision of the business maverick who goes his/or her (but let’s be honest, usually his) own way and creates something incredible and new. Steve Jobs was vehemently against market research for Apple, saying that
“It’s not the consumers’ job to figure out what they want.”
It’s a seductive idea, the thought of going your own way and not listening to anyone but yourself. However, while people equate this kind of thinking with Jobs’ success, it’s important to remember that “NeXT workstations” the project Jobs created after quitting Apple in 1985 were far too costly for the educational sector they were designed for. The very fact that Jobs had refused to listen to consumers made the NeXT workstations a colossal failure.
Asking a client or customer questions will give you a clearer picture of what their needs are and aren’t and will allow you to tailor what you do for them.
However, just asking questions isn’t very helpful without paying attention to not just what people say, but how they say it. The truth is, people often don’t say what they mean. Sometimes they are afraid of looking silly, or admitting they have less money than they’d like, or saying something others might disagree with.
This is why it is important to really listen. Not just with your ears, but with your eyes as well. Note their body language, their tone of voice, the way they answer your questions. This kind of active listening will give you access to information your competitors simply don’t have. And it impresses the hell out of others when you appear to be able to read minds and give people what they actually wanted but were afraid to say.
So don’t be afraid of using your “soft skills” of listening and asking questions to their full advantage. While asking questions and listening seems easy to a lot of us, the business world is full of people who are secretly desperate to be listened to.
I believe in you. You’ve got this.
For questions about this article, please reach out to Erin (above) or to us here.