Below is the first in a series of one-on-one chats with Blattel Communications Founder and CEO Ellen Blattel titled, “Conversations with Ellen.” Below is a dialogue with Assistant Account Executive Michael Panelli on the value of listening.
Michael Panelli (MP): One of the things you’ve said has been helpful in life and in business is being a good listener. Can you say a little about this?
Ellen Blattel (EB): One of the most important skills in business is listening. Without really listening to clients or customers, it is easy to offer advice and counsel that is off base. I almost always recommend establishing a foundation for the discussion and then letting the client provide pertinent information. You can guide the conversation, make clarifications and ask smart questions to ensure you get to the information needed to be strategic and effective.
MP: Is part of listening also deciphering what wasn’t said and then diagnosing where clients may be looking to go in the future?
EB: Absolutely! Listening entails assessing what was said, what was implied and what was — intentionally or unintentionally — left out of the dialogue. It is important, at the end of a discussion, to briefly reiterate the highlights, decisions made and agreed upon next steps.
MP: Do you have a particular philosophy when it comes to note-taking at meetings? How do you organize and act on these takeaways?
EB: I remember a new client pitch where several PR agencies were brought in for interviews. At the meeting’s conclusion, the potential client told us we were the only group to take notes. She thought this was impressive because it would allow us to better reflect on the conversation and to make better recommendations – and it demonstrated that we listen. We landed the business and worked with the firm for several years, increasing its market visibility and credibility to position it for sale. I am pleased to report that a successful sale occurred!
I recommend designating a primary note-taker prior to meetings. This should not be the lead. While lead presenter should also take notes, these will not be as detailed to allow for a meaningful conversation with direct eye contact. Follow up with a thank you note, highlighting next steps and important deadlines, to confirm how well you were listening.
MP: Can you talk a little about the importance of follow-up calls and “just checking in” moments?
EB: We all know communication is the key to success. It is always important to provide clients and team members with regular updates as a way to solidify relationships and be accountable. You never want a client (or supervisor or teammate) to wonder about the status of a project. You want to communicate before they feel the need to reach out to you (and well before it keeps them up at night).
MP: Do you have any strategies for when a client isn’t listening to your counsel and the relationship seems to be at a disconnect?
EB: Acknowledging that we have different perspectives on how to approach a situation is always important – particularly in judgment-intensive positions like professional services. This comes up often in crisis situations when we’re dealing with existing or potential media coverage and sensitive situations. These interactions can put stress on even the best of working relationships. If there is a big disconnect, I usually follow up with an email highlighting the approach or messaging the client desires and then addressing, in a professional manner, our recommended approach and why and how this is different. Putting it in writing can be pivotal. In some instances, this gives the client the space to consider a different perspective and variables that may or may not have been top-of-mind during the initial conversation. The goal is to be both accommodating and professionally opinionated and direct.