Posted in Communication

Hire The Listening Impaired at Your Peril - by L. Burke Files

President of Financial Examinations & Evaluations, Inc.


No, this has nothing to do with the hearing impaired, this has to do with people who just do not listen.


I was working with Karl, a man who runs a specialty glass and glazing business. Karl is an excellent and clear communicator. He is a business leader, a decorated scout leader, and a very patient man. But one day he had his share of attempting to communicate with different suppliers. I had the fun of listening to his side of the conversations; it was a bit like one of the old Bob Newhart comedy routines. Although it was funny for me to listen to his side of the conversation, it frustrating for him – at a minimum. Here is a recreation of two of those calls.


Karl called his insurance company to ask if he would need more insurance as his house was soon to be filled with contractors putting on an extension.


“Hello, this is Karl, I am one of your insured’s and I am putting an extension on my house and I would like to know if I need additional insurance?” … “No ma’am, this is not my…. No, ma’am… ma’am this is my residence… no I do not run a construction company… ma’am … please listen ma’am … uh huh… uh huh… your looking at my records, yes… yes I know it is in a residential zone it is my… un huh… un huh… yes… yes… it is my house you know… what do you mean you cannot insure the house, you already do… ma’am… please listen to me… This is not my business it my residence where I am having some remodeling done… ma’am, STOP TALKING OVER ME… ma’am… NO! THIS IS NOT MY BUSINESS IT IS MY RESIDENCE AND IF YOU HAD BEEN LISTENING TO ONE THING I SAID AND COULD STOP TALKING OVER ME WE COULD GET A BIT FURTHER… ma’am, YES I AM UPSET… can you get another agent with ears… I know… OK so you’re upset… try this on for size – I ‘ll call another company and get a new insurance agent and carrier! ma’am… ma’am… please stop talking for one moment – please… thank you ma’am, now listen very carefully to these two words – good bye!” Three days later Karl terminated his insurance with that carrier and found an agent who would actually listen and answer his questions. Karl had a call later in the day with a supplier of specialty window glass for a high-end jewelry store. For a bit of background, several of the components Karl uses have to be custom fabricated and lead times for these items can be many weeks or months. One component missing means the whole installation is pushed back until a replacement can be fabricated and delivered. When clients have specific opening dates for their stores, those dates are hard – not soft. His clients cannot commit to stock inventory, hire employees or pay rent on a location that has no windows or cases, thus the storeowners naturally shift some of the risks of delays to the contractors. So when the order of high clarity tamper resistant glass went missing, Karl called the supplier.


“Hello Advantage Glass Supply, this is Karl and I am calling about order number 779926… Yes, that is the correct order number… yes, it is the correct number I am looking at the invoice… yes the order is three months old… what do you mean I should have called sooner?… what do you mean all orders not picked up with in one week are restocked?… excuse, EXCUSE ME, this was a custom order with a 10 week lead time… it could not possibly have been ready three months ago – it was not even made three months ago, are you looking at the order?... Now, are you going to help me… if you cannot help me why are you on the phone?... please get a supervisor… please… excuse me what is your name?... Ed, well Ed, I paid for the custom order in full, I do not owe you a restocking charge… Ed… Ed… please let me finish… helloooo Ed… are you done Ed?… yes… yes… Ed, I buy fifty thousand dollars of glass from your company every month… Ed, I do not care if you ever heard of me before… Ed… Ed… … … … - are you finished Ed?... … … … Ok, Ed – here is what I am going to do – I am going name you and the company as codefendant in any litigation resulting from the liquidated damages I’ll have to pay as a result of your loosing the glass order… ah, so now I have to speak to legal?... Ed… Ed… please put me through to legal… Ed… … … Ed… thank you, yes – put me through to legal now…. Hello, who am I speaking to… Sarah, good day Sarah – do you pay Ed by the word?


In the end, about 20 minutes later, Sarah in the legal department, found the order. Karl was so happy that he placed his next order for glass through the legal department.


The persons on the other end of those calls had the same problem, they were not listening. They were reacting to what they thought they heard. This behavior is what we default to when we are over worked, tired, or just not paying attention. For most of us a gentle prodding gets us to snap out of the default reaction setting, but sometimes that does not work.


Every one in a company, especially those answering phones or dealing with customers, must be trained to listen. It is not hard, but we don’t do it. It is our peril if we fail to hire or train people that can listen.


A few points on learning to listen.


What to avoid.


It is imperative: you must shut your mouth. You cannot listen if you are talking.


Also tell your brain to shut up. While someone is talking we tend to be formulating answers and preparing to respond to what is being said. This is talking with your mouth closed. Talking with your mouth closed is still a problem because you are not listening. This is a very natural process and is primarily defensive in nature. We are trying to think of ways no to be made wrong, or to be seen a right and even trying to jump to a conclusions to make the communication go faster. Telling your brain to shut up is also about being present in the task.


Avoid additional noise in the background. This can be difficult if we are in an open room, or a counter where one has to take calls and serve customers in person. It is distracting at best and disruptive to any listening process.


What to do.


Do repeat in your head, or if you must, write down what is being said on scratch paper in front of you. It helps keep you focused and present in the task.


Do repeat what has been said to make sure you and the person on the other end of the conversation understand one another. This echoing of the statements is even more important when we are rushed or are in a noisy and distracting environment.


Do wait until the person is finished speaking before you begin to speak. If they begin to talk over you – stop talking. Wait till they finish, and than begin again.


After all of the marvelous listening you have done, if you cannot seem to get the same listening from the person on the other end of the conversation, be polite, but let them know only one can listen at a time.


I have seen conversations where neither party will let the other get a word out of their mouth without being talked over. These exchanges are an utter waste of time. We see this on the television news programs where every one is trying to speak at once. As a listener we cannot understand who is saying what or even follow the points of the cacophony – so we tune it out or turn it off. Tuning out or turning off is an unwise state for people answering phones.

Mr. Files is a published author of five books, in particular "Due Diligence for the Financial Professional, 2nd edition 2010" and "Money and Budgets." Other writing and material can be found at  Mr. Files is an international speaker on these topics. 

FE&E, Inc. is an international investigative firm specializing in fraud prevention, asset recovery, due diligence, anti-money laundering and intellectual property. 

As a financial industry insider for over 30 years, he is keenly aware of the type, and accuracy of the information required to make decisions. Mr. Files has been the case manager on fraud investigations ranging from tens of thousands of dollars to over $3 billion.   As an international expert on due diligence and Intellectual Property and Critical Information (IPCI), he is regularly sought for those cases that bedevil the desktop practitioners. 

This article is courtesy of the Top 1% Club and the Top 1% Club Mentor Gail Kasper. For additional information on Gail Kasper, her television appearances and speaking engagements, please visit