How to Be an Active Listener with Your Clients

Did you know that we listen to people at a rate of 125-250 words per minute, but think at a rate of 1,000-3,000 words per minute? We’re so busy thinking about the next thing we might want to mention, the next question on our brain, the twenty other items on our to-do list for the day and anything else that might pop up in our busy brains that we’re not really paying attention to what we’re hearing. We’re not hearing the excitement or frustration in our client’s tone. We’re not hearing the consequences to a quick decision. We won’t really hear any of these other factors unless we stop to take a minute and really focus on the conversation.

In theory, having our brains move so quickly sounds like a good thing. Our brains are hard at work! We’re firing on all cylinders! (And any other catchphrase a productive team wants to hear.) But in reality, there’s a big chance that our brains are missing the key details that are being communicated to us. As account managers, it’s our job to be active listeners with our clients, and it’s one of the most valuable skills we can have. It doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced account director or a brand new junior account person, because at the end of the day, your job is to listen to your clients and listen well. There might be a misperception that listening to your clients makes you a “yes woman/man” instead of an active account manager. However, really listening to your clients allows you to pick up on the hints or cues they may not be directly telling you.


Here are some ideas on how to become a better listener:

  • Take Notes: Whether it’s a status call, a brief phone chat, or an in-person meeting, take notes. And take them all the time. It’s easy to forget a small detail or a piece that doesn’t have anything to do with the current conversation, but will be relevant in another month. Taking notes can help you ensure that you’re understanding what you’re hearing, and remembering it for future applications.

  • Ask For Clarification: Sometimes just asking a follow-up question, or asking your clients to clarify can make a world of difference. Clients are often moving at a fast pace to keep up with their busy schedules and may not have time to think through all of those little details account managers need. Take the time to listen carefully, ask for further clarification and send another round of follow-up questions to make sure you’re aligned with your client. This will also boost client confidence once they realize you’re actively listening and thinking through all of their ongoing projects.

  • Listen to What They’re Not Explicitly Saying: Any account manager knows that just because a client doesn’t outright tell you that they’re frustrated, doesn’t mean they’re not. When talking to clients, whether over the phone or via email, listen for the subtext cues that show if they’re frustrated or pleased with a project. Learning to identify those cues can make a big difference in the client relationship. Not only can you pick up on tonal cues, but you can also learn to identify opportunities that may serve as a way to insert your team’s thinking or expertise on new projects.

So, the next time you get a phone call from the client, remember, it’s all about actively listening. Jot down a note, ask a question and take a moment to follow up with the client once you’ve had a chance to think through what you heard. Happy listening!

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