The Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago offers communication tips from a motivational speaker.

Recession. Economic crisis.

A person cannot open a newspaper these days without seeing these grim words scattered across the pages. It is a reality that America’s business community must face on a daily basis.

But how can a business continue to sell and grow when everyone is scared to spend money? According to “Active Listening,” a Webcast provided by a Chicago-area association to its members, the answer is simple: go back to the basics and listen to what customers have to say.

“In a slumping economy, businesspeople need to redouble their efforts to succeed,” said Stephen Lamb, executive vice president of the Mechanical Contractors Association  of Chicago, which provides educational opportunities for its members. “So we asked Mark Matteson, a top motivational speaker, to help our members to fine-tune their communication skills.”

  “If we listen and ask the right questions, business happens,” said Mark Matteson, founder of Pinnacle Service Group Inc., and the host of the Webcast.

Matteson is a motivational speaker and speaks on such topics as leadership, team building, communication skills, and customer service. In the Webcast, Matteson outlines the merits of active listening, which he describes as “listening to what a person is saying and being able to repeat it back in your own words.”

Matteson’s presentation lists four steps to becoming a successful listener: listen, pause, question and paraphrase. Each step is a good way for webcast viewers to build confidence and knowledge as they develop the skills required to really listen to what is being said.

  In the first step, Matteson suggests not crossing your arms as you listen to others, since it gives the impression that you are unreceptive and not interested. He also suggests taking notes as you listen, to show you are engaged in the conversation.

  The second step reveals the importance of allowing pauses during a conversation, so that everyone involved has time to process the information being shared. According to Matteson, a short pause may mean the other person is just thinking about what should come next.

  If the customer is still talking to you, Matteson observed, it means they are still interested in what you are selling.

“What they really care about is whether you care about them or not,” he said.

  The last two steps entail the all-important wrap-up of the conversation, Matteson noted. When the client is finished speaking, the third step is to ask questions, to make sure you both understand what has been said. The last step is paraphrasing: simply repeat back, in your own words, what the customer has told you.

  After implementing these steps, Matteson explained, you will know what the client expects and how to accommodate their expectations. Plus, you will have built a rapport with the client that other competitors have not.

“In troubled times it is important that we put down all the technology and get back to the basics. A little bit of listening can make all the difference,” Matteson said. “People will tell you things they won’t tell their barber, their banker or their best friend.”

  Lamb noted that the listening skills taught by Matteson are extremely valuable in business and cannot be replaced by e-mail.

 “It may be tempting to try to do most of one’s communications by e-mail,” he said, “but electronic messages are impersonal and fall short in conveying enthusiasm. Nothing can replace the warmth and camaraderie of two people talking face-to-face.”