The All-Important Distinction Between Hearing Your Client and Listening to Them
Updated: Oct 6
We all know how important communication is. In all areas of life, whether it’s in a professional or personal context, communication is integral to people understanding each other. Being able to listen effectively will help you communicate better with your client – and it will help you identify what they truly need from you.
For those of us that work in client-facing roles, developing our communication skills is important to ensure we provide the best support to our client. Understanding the difference between hearing and listening is essential to this. Hearing is generally passive – you’re hearing what people are telling you, but you may not actually take the information in and engage with it. Listening, on the other hand, is active and involves genuinely paying attention to what someone is saying, with the aim of gaining a real understanding of what they’re communicating to you. Listening entails not just understanding the words you’re hearing, but also picking up on the nuances and cues beneath what is actually being said.
When you start working on your ability to listen well to your clients, you’ll learn that providing the best work will depend on how well you interpret what the customer has said. Being able to listen to, understand and accurately interpret your client’s needs is a very important skillset to develop. In order to provide the best solutions to your client, you’ll need to listen carefully and pay attention to what’s being said between the lines to identify what they truly want or need.
Be mindful that what your client says they want is not necessarily what they or their business is actually in need of. Sometimes, clients simply don’t know what is in their best interest. Henry Ford, the father of the automotive industry allegedly once said, “If I had asked what people wanted, they would have said faster horses”. As Ford so cleverly suggests, it’s possible to develop solutions that address a client’s needs better than what they think they need. We can distinguish between what a client wants and what their actual needs are.
A client might come to you with a certain idea or request in mind, but as a professional in the field, you might know from experience that this particular idea would likely be a poor choice for the client. If this is the case, just hearing what the customer wants and providing them with what they requested isn’t offering the best service to them. Actively listening to what the client says they want and taking in their situation would give you a better understanding of what they actually need from you. This goes deeper than just accepting what the customer says they want, and focuses on identifying what their actual needs are and how you can best help them. As you can see, if you’d like to offer your client the best service you can, you might need to do better than just giving them what they ask for, and instead delve deeper into what their actual needs are through asking key questions, doing research in the relevant market and identifying the best solution for their issue.
Though trying to identify your client’s true need is important, you’ll also need to find a healthy balance between what the client wants and what you think is best. As a professional, helping the client understand what they actually need is important, but it’s also your responsibility to give them what they ask for if they don’t heed your advice. It’s ultimately the client’s call, and if the work you deliver doesn’t correspond to the brief they gave you, it goes without saying that most clients would be disappointed.