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What I’ve Learned by Listening to My Clients

January 25th, 2016

By: Karen Colligan

kids with stringsThis year I will celebrate PeopleThink’s 16th year in business. I like to think we’ve beat the odds, considering that, according to the Small Business Association, only about a quarter of sole-ownership businesses survive 15 years or more. When I reflect on what has helped me stick around, three things come to mind: 1) I listen; 2) I build strong partnerships; 3) I am continuously learning and adapting.

Listening. In my last blog I talked about the importance of listening. It really is fundamental to building trust and developing lasting relationships. In my work, where many clients have the same or similar issues, it would be easy to tune out and simply recommend what’s worked for others in the past. But here’s the thing. Although the issues may be similar, every client, every organization, every particular situation is different. Goals are different. Personalities are different. Specific challenges are different. Tune out for a second, and you may miss that one critical piece that will separate success from failure. Never assume you know what to recommend until you’ve asked all the questions and really listened to all the answers.

Partnerships. I have to admit, I’m pretty uncomfortable with “selling.” So my approach has been to build partnerships with my clients – it’s about “we” and not about “me.” How can I help my clients achieve their goals and be successful? I’m happy to say that I still hear from clients I worked with years ago who reach out to seek my counsel and coaching on a new challenge or opportunity. They know that I will listen, and give them honest feedback based on their needs. They also know that they can trust me to: do what I say I’m going to do, always be on time, keep them accountable, and infuse a bit of fun into our work.

Continuous learning. Continuous learning means that in this rapidly changing world I strive to keep up-to-date on research and best practices in leadership, team and organizational development. Over the years I’ve adapted to and incorporated new assessment and learning tools, such as Lumina Spark, that provide my clients with more robust, evidence-based, and actionable information. And continuous learning also means that even though I’ve been doing what I do for 16 years in PeopleThink and in the corporate environment for many years before that, I learn something new every day…from colleagues, from people in my workshops, from partners. Having an open mind and heart and knowing you don’t know it all is essential to building and maintaining the types of relationships that will make your business thrive.

Please join me in raising a toast to 16 wonderful PeopleThink years! I’m looking forward to many more!

“Most of the successful people I know are the ones who do more listening than talking.” - Bernard Baruch

Till next time,


Communication, Relationships, success

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Are You Really Listening?

January 11th, 2016

By: Karen Colligan

Listening-4According to an Impraise survey, managers are 55% LESS interested than their employees are in improving their own listening skills. Really?

Does that mean they think they already have perfect listening skills, or that they don’t think listening skills are as important as, say, presentation skills (which scored higher in the survey results)? Whichever it is, I think we can all agree that it’s just a tad bit unrealistic. Let’s face it, we can probably ALL use a tune up on our listening skills.

Most of us learned to listen from our parents through trial and error. “How many times do I have to tell you?” “Are you listening to me?” “You never listen.” “I’ve told you time and time again…” Sound familiar? It was really more about hearing and remembering and complying. There were no effective listening classes in school.

As adults, the stakes are higher. Listening, really listening, can pinpoint the client’s needs in a sales meeting; improve a manager/employee relationship; make the difference in a medical diagnosis.

Effective communication is when the sender and receiver of information interpret that information in the same way. For the receiver (listener) that requires not interrupting, paraphrasing what was said, asking clarifying questions, withholding judgment, and conveying an openness that encourages the speaker to share openly. It means waiting until the speaker is finished to formulate a response. And it means listening with your eyes as well as your ears. What does the speaker’s body language tell you? What is being left unsaid?

So let me ask you, are you really listening? Spend a few minutes taking this brief Listening Skills Inventory to self-assess. It’s for your eyes only, so be brutally honest with yourself. It’s a starting point.

Rate yourself on each of the following questions. Score 4 for Almost Always. 3 for Usually. 2 for Seldom. And 1 for Never.

1. Do you let people finish what they’re trying to say before you speak?
2. If the person hesitates, do you try to encourage him/her rather than start your reply?
3. Do you withhold judgment about the person’s ideas until he/she has finished?
4. Can you listen fully even though you think you know what he or she is about to say?
5. Can you listen non-judgmentally even if you do not like the person who is talking?
6. Do you stop what you’re doing and give full attention when listening?
7. Do you give the person appropriate eye contact, head nods and nonverbals to indicate you’re listening?
8. Do you listen fully regardless of the speaker’s manner of speaking (e.g., grammar, accent, choice of words)?
9. Do you paraphrase and use clarifying questions to ensure that you understand?

Add up your score. Then, follow me on Facebook to see what the scores mean.

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” – Dalai Lama

Let 2016 be a year of listening and learning!

Till next time,

Communication, Learning, Life