For anyone of a certain age (we won’t be any more specific) those words most likely prompt a mind’s earful of a catchy tune as recorded by the Fab Four.  (If “Fab Four” is meaningless to you, skip to paragraph 2.)  The lyrics of the song, simplistic as they might be, belie one of the key — maybe even THE key criteria to successful relationship: be quiet; listen up; and you are likely to hear something of value.

Makes for a nice song.  But practically speaking, we don’t much care for the discipline that is required to really listen.

Don’t believe this?  Look around, and consider the precipitous decline in the art of conversation.  E-mail, texting, social updates (in as few as 140 characters, to boot) — all make it infinitely more easy to browse, skim, filter and create shortcuts for messaging.  Key words and optimized phrases have become the shorthand of ideas.  Seems like this used to be thought of as “hearing only what we want to hear.”

And if one is really plugged in, technology will do much of the work for you.

Really listening, it turns out — the kind of intentional act that puts aside agendas and preconceived notions — is hard work.  It calls for focus and concentration.  It has one goal: to learn something.

Not to sell, disciple, convert or win.  To learn.  Because learning is the door to opportunity.

(As an aside, if your sales force or customer facing team is having difficulty identifying new productive and profitable opportunities, they may not be listening.)

This is what we tell our children: listen and learn.  It is — to a lesser degree to be sure, but to a certain degree nonetheless — the way we behave in the earliest stages of an important personal relationship.  Talking less.  Listening more intentionally.  Looking for insights that combine to form a bridge to relationship.  Alert to the most promising opportunities for connection.

The unfortunate tendency — in the context of personal and business relationships — is to far too quickly believe we know enough (if not, all).

And with “research” complete, the focus on listening shifts to a preoccupation with what we now want to say.

We agonize over brochure copy, web content, Twitter posts, and a message strategy for Facebook, Linked In and now Google +.  With so many ways to deliver our message, what we say becomes the focus.  Even in conversation, research points to the fact that often, while feigning listening, we’re really thinking about what we need to say next.

Few are the strategic discussions around the execution of a feedback mechanism.  Fewer still the times that the listening potential of social media or the firm web site appear on a meeting agenda.  These are, after all, messaging tools.  So convinced are we that connecting and communicating with the market is about messaging, that the absence of robust listening tools is scarcely noticed.

And we certainly don’t consider the listening opportunity inherent in social media.  (How many organizations do you know that follow clients or key customers on Twitter — not to talk to them, but to listen to what they have to say?)

This is not to diminish the need for or value in quality messaging.  It is, of course, critical.  It is to at least whisper into our collective marketing ears.

Want customers / clients for life?  Listen closely.  Given the time and opportunity, the market will tell you the secrets to their loyalty.