In Business It Pays to Ask and Listen

By Stacy Cornay for the Times-Call
Publish Date: 10/02/2011

When my sister-in-law was going through a contentious divorce, she sought counseling to help her over the rough spots. She left abruptly when the counselor asked, “What are you here for?”.

Her reasoning: ”If he has to ask me why I was there, he obviously didn't know what he's doing.”

Often people seeking advice ignore or reject the answers offered. They really aren't looking for answers or guidance. They're looking for someone to reinforce what they already believe. That may work in our personal lives, but in the business world when you're looking for advice or solutions, listen well to what others have to say.

Listening is the best piece of professional advice that I've ever been given. I share that advice freely with clients, friends, my husband, my son, and my dog. Ask those who have expertise and listen to their answers. You won't always agree with all they have to say, but their words may open your eyes to new approaches and new opportunities.

Not listening to what those with years of training and experience have to say is a sure way to dig yourself even deeper into whatever hole you're in.

Technology and immediacy have injected new complexities into the already complex arenas of marketing, communication and public relations. Many successful businesspeople have stayed abreast of the fields. They know what they're doing, when to do it, and why. They don't need much advice from outside professionals. Many other businesses do. They stand to benefit from the education and experience of outsiders with proven track records.

But only if they're ready to listen.

Before seeking advice from a marketing or communications or public relations professional, the businessperson should ask and answer basic questions:

  • What are you hoping to accomplish? What is your ultimate goal?
  • What is your budget? How much can you spend and how much are you willing to spend?
  • In which area or areas do you most need advice or answers
  • marketing, communications, public relations, etc.?
  • Are you flexible and willing to change to implement any new plans or strategies that may be developed?
  • Are you open to considering new options?
  • Are you looking for a quick fix or are you interested in an in-depth approach?
  • Are you open-minded?
  • Above all, are you a good listener?

If you can't confidently answer the questions, you're probably not ready to ask your own. You're probably not prepared to hear what an outside professional has to say.

An open relationship between those seeking advice and those giving it is critical to positive outcomes. You, the businessperson, want answers to your marketing, communication, and public relations problems. Outside professionals have the education and expertise to give answers. Open, candid exchanges will forge bonds of trust between those seeking advice and those offering it.

The system breaks down when those seeking answers have preconceived and unshakable beliefs in what the answers should be. It works well and pays dividends when those doing the asking are open to opinions other than their own; when they are full participants in the planning and development processes; when they balance costs with impacts; when they welcome realistic assessments of what is working, what is not, and what should be put in time-out.

My sister-in-law thought she needed counseling to navigate her stormy emotional waters. She may have needed, but she wasn't ready. She wanted quick-fix answers that agreed with her conclusions. She wasn't interested in hearing anything else an outside professional might have to say.

That approach doesn't work well in business.

In business, it pays to ask and then listen.


Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising. 
Visit www.comm-concepts.com or call 303-651-6612.