Learning to Listen

by: Shannon McNay

Have you ever lost your keys right before leaving the house? You start with the usual spots but, turning desperate, you crawl under the couch and look in every other nook and cranny you can find. After searching high and low and coming up empty, you start to wrack your brain, retrace your steps, leave the room and come back again. Still no keys. Then you look down.

They were in your hand the whole time.

Is this not a little bit like running a company? You spend every waking minute thinking about your company, every sleeping hour dreaming about your company…even your “relaxation” time finds its way to thoughts or conversations about your company. There is literally no one that could be closer to the problem than you are.

Then you meet someone for coffee and they talk to you about things you could do to improve. All you can think is, “I know what I’m doing. I don’t need this person’s advice.”

But do you know what you’re doing exactly? Does any freelancer or entrepreneur ever fully know what they’re doing? As a freelancer myself, I spend a good portion of my time figuring it out as I go. I learn, I make mistakes, I iterate, I try again. I learn what I don’t want to do through the failures and what I should maximize on by what works well…

…and I take advice like crazy.

Learning to Listen

Going back to the lost key scenario, when that happens to you, do you partially feel like you must be losing your mind? “They have to be there,” you think. “I remember putting them there yesterday. Someone must have taken them…”

It never occurs to you to look in your own hands. The thought that you may have already picked up your keys never crosses your mind. That’s because you were feeling frantic before the lost keys ever happened. The frantic state of mind is what led you to believe you lost your keys…and what rendered you unable to see that you were holding them.

That frantic state is a lot like what it feels like to run a company or to work as a freelancer. Every day there’s a new fire to put out. Every day there’s a fear that you might lose a client and won’t be able to find a new one. Every day there’s at least one client demanding far more than you initially agreed to. Thus, you “lose your keys.”

Usually, it takes someone else walking in the room to tell you, “Hey, the keys are right there. Right in your hands.” Similarly, it can sometimes take someone outside of your company to see and state the obvious:. “Have you tried this? What about telling your client this?”

But it can be so hard to listen. How could that person possibly know what they’re talking about? They’re not running your company! They’re not dealing with your clients!

What they are is outside of the problem. They’re not too close to it like you are. And that’s why they can see the keys in your hand – the keys you couldn’t feel even though you were holding them. Even if this person isn’t an entrepreneur, they have the luxury of perspective because they’re not thinking about your challenges all the time like you are. That’s why they can speak from a point of view that can turn your thinking on its head.

The key to listening is knowing that it’s not about the other person’s credentials and sometimes it’s not even about the advice. It’s all about the outside perspective.

Who cares if the other person has an intimate knowledge of your challenges? You don’t have to do everything they suggest. All you have to do is understand that their perspective could be valuable. Besides, all advice should be taken with a grain of salt, no matter who it comes from. Whether you’re talking to an investor or your closest friend, consider where they’re coming from and what’s important to them and then adjust what you do with their advice accordingly.

Those who maintain an open mind are able to grow more, learn faster, and reach more success….While those who close their minds invite a struggle that could be wholly unnecessary. Keep an open mind and your business (and sanity) will thank you.

Image Credit: Julia Caesar

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