Listening to your clients is one of those things that’s easier said than done. Sure they write the checks, which means you should be all ears. But then again, they rely on you as the design expert, so it’s also your job to speak up and sound off.
In this post, we’ll summarize three of the less obvious ways to improve communication and be a better listener to your design clients, so you can lay the foundation for a solid relationship in which both parties communicate constructively and with a high level of empathy and respect.
Stop talking (verbally and electronically)
When you’re talking to a client, you’re essentially selling your design business. This is the case even after the contract has been signed because what you say and how you act ensures that you keep the relationship with the client going strong. But sometimes, you need to stop talking, which can feel awkward or foreign if you’ve done the most of that thus far.
The truth is, when you quiet down, you show that you have a sincere interest in what your client has to say about the project. This makes them feel comfortable sharing information with you, and the more information you have, the better work you can design for them.
Being quiet in this way doesn’t just mean your lips stay closed for a duration of time. It means that your eyes stay on the client and your fingers off your keyboard (cell phone, and other distractions). Often times when we go into a meeting, we come equipped with a laptop, smartphone, tablet, and more.
While it may be tempting to fire back an email, respond to a quick text, check the notification that just popped up, or even show the client something you’re only an easy google search away from, putting your digital devices out of sight and out of mind when conversing with your client will go a long way to earning their trust and respect. It shows them that they are number-one in that moment, that you are present, and that nothing is more important that the dialogue you are having.
Listen to understand; not to reply
Whether you’re in a meeting with your client face-to-face or dialoguing with them on the phone, through email, or virtual conferencing, there is a certain expectation that you—the designer and service provider—always has to have the answers. So when you listen, you are most likely listening (or scanning the email) at about 75%, while the other 25% of you is thinking about the your next reply.
Some conversations, however, are just that—conversations. There is no expectation other than to just hear what the client is saying and digest it. In those situations, after the client is done talking or when you reach the end of their email, they are really just looking for validation that you heard their thoughts.
For instance, if a client is providing unfavorable feedback on a design, your first inclination is probably to think of ways to defend the work. But sometimes a simple, “I understand, let us get back to you with some new ideas,” is far more powerful than any “answer” you could think up on the fly.
Take notes (with a pen and paper) and ask questions
Being a good listener isn’t about who can sit still and silent the longest. There’s a way to go about being an “active” listener, and one of the best strategies is to take notes during the time the client is talking. While it may be tempting to do so on your new, cool note-taking app, now is not the time to show off. In fact, it is likely that your client will be more impressed if you show up with just a pen and paper and take some good old fashioned notes.
Equally as impressive is asking thoughtful questions. This shows you are committed to digging deeper into understanding your client and producing the best possible outcome for them.
As you can see, going back to your grade school days and being a good listener can really increase communication and get you places. How has being a good listener helped your design career? What do you think clients like most about working with someone who listens? And how have you shown off your great listening skills?