All listening is not the same.

Consider the differences in the way you listen to talk radio as you sit in traffic; to the argument of an adversary; and, for the slightest whimper from the new born down the hall.

The soundtrack of a day is complex. Most of us are adept at juggling multiple channels vying for our attention. We learn what to listen for, what resonates, how to zero-in on key words, phrases or even subtle intonation. And when to tune out.

But as we become skilled at this brand of reactive listening we are (inadvertently) contributing to the demise of something that is central to effective communication. As it turns out, it’s one of the ingredients we need most if we hope to build relationships that lead to long-term business development.

Intentional, Proactive Listening

Perhaps it is a byproduct of attempting to pack as much into an hour — even a brief conversation — as possible. Whatever the cause, we rarely think of listening as the centerpiece of business communication, marketing, client development or sales.

Rather, it is tempting to view opportunities to connect as demands for messaging —  of the new idea, the latest services and capabilities, or our most recent award. And this is where we invest virtually all the time and resources earmarked for business development.

Listening is seldom the priority when presented with a chance to present a message.

It is so easy to become so focused on delivering our message that in those (usually all-too-brief) moments when a client or prospect is questioning or commenting — providing insight into what is most important to her — we can’t do much better than half listen. Primary attention is being given to the content of our next message — our response.

The unfortunate fact is that the ability to multitask and master-mix the noise of our marketplace notwithstanding, listening is often the most productive tool at our fingertips. The poetry and/or profundity of a message has little impact when disconnected from the concerns and drivers of the target.

If you’re wondering how to differentiate your business development efforts, the question is — how much more effective might our attempts at communication be if our intent was first to listen?

This is why client interview and feedback programs are so valuable.

This is why there is measurable value in having conversations apart from the context of a project, presentation or specific matter.

Intentional listening highlights the voice of those with whom we want to connect. And by voice, I mean the cares, aspirations and concerns of your target audience. It is the key to the most basic principle of effective communication — that connection takes place in the context of shared experience and understanding.

Put another way — intentional listening will identify, outline and define the language of the closest you will ever come to a can’t-miss-message.

Translation: the shortest distance between where we are today and a relationship that results in business development that will change your practice is less about the construction of a long list of capabilities, and more about one or two questions that instigate dialogue. Less about what we know, and more about what we can learn if we’ll listen first.

Game-changing business development — not to mention, the road to becoming a trusted advisor — is much less about beginning with a compelling message, and much more about intentional listening.