Have you ever been in the situation with a customer where your own teammates monopolize the “discussion” and turn it into a monologue?  Clearly they believe they have value to add.  But they’re making a mistake if they think talking = communicating.  This uncomfortable shift in communication direction is a problem, because it signifies to customers that we’ve forgotten whose needs are paramount. 

Let’s begin with a real world example.  At a particularly memorable customer meeting, I watched a colleague make the mistake.  This person was assessing the customer relationship.  We got off to a good start by asking, “How would you assess our relationship status?”  But then, disaster.  Before the customer had a chance to respond, my colleague proceeded to tell the customer his perspective.  So much for being interested in the “voice of the customer.”

How can you get the discussion back on track and salvage the meeting?

Three methods have served me well.

  1. Be direct – In advance of meetings, remind teammates to listen with a deep desire to learn and understand.  During meetings, when things drift off course, explicitly ask teammates to listen.  This method can be uncomfortable because your office mates will interpret this request as a rebuke of their “active” listening skills.  (Which indeed, it is.)  In the example above, I described a case where we didn’t give the customer a chance.  A simple “let’s give the customer an opportunity to respond” usually does the trick.
  2. Question the customer – Interrupt the colleague’s monologue, restate the most recent point, and then merely ask, “Is this the challenge you’re facing or how would you phrase it?”  This simple question creates space and invites customers to discuss their issues and priorities.
  3. Question a teammate – Interrupt the monologue and ask a different colleague “how have you heard the customer’s challenge and how have you seen other companies successfully approach the issue?”  This question has the benefit of re-framing the issue while simultaneously illustrating a path forward.

If the monologue happens within the company, it may be boring but at least we can tune it out. But when we witness this behavior happening with customers we have a responsibility to redirect the conversation (interrupt) or we run the very real risk of sending the wrong message that our “agenda comes first, our challenges matter most, and our voice is preferred.”

The pivot point is that conversations are dialogues and have two sides.  We must listen with the goal of understanding our customers.  We must remain attuned to our human inclination to show how smart we are.  Borrowing a quotation attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  Not easy when we’re engaged in a monologue.

Fixing Communication Monologues (vs. Dialogues)
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