“Seek first to understand, then to be understood”
This month's blog post comes from Tony Balmer, VP Director of Account Management.
Born and raised in Manhattan, Tony Balmer is an original Mad Man. A strong account leader with a proven track record of revenue growth for his clients and his agency, Tony’s account experience includes Subaru of America, Exxon Mobil, Hunt-Wesson Foods, Hilton Hotels and, most recently, Texas Tourism, Susan G. Komen, and Summit Industries.
As Director of Account Management, Tony is a big believer that account management is a craft to be honed with hard work, the willingness to sweat the details, the ability to be a really good listener, and the conviction that success as an account person is never about you and always about your team and your client.
One question we like to ask account management candidates is “If you could pick only one thing to be really good at as an account person, what would it be?”
We ask because we account people do a lot of things, what defines our craft is often not as clear cut as what defines that of our colleagues (writers write, etc.), and it’s easy to lose sight of what we do (or should be doing) when so much of our day is spent in the service of others and making sure everyone else in the building is doing what they do.
The exhortation to “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” is from Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. It’s about listening. Listening with empathy. Listening with the sincere intent to understand what another person is saying (or otherwise communicating because only 10% of communication is what is actually said). For us, this is the most critical competency of a great account person. And it’s not easy. To quote Covey again:
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people’s lives.”
We all do this and it takes self-awareness, discipline and practice to stop doing it, most of the time anyway.
As a fledgling account guy, I remember going to client meetings, “listening” to the conversation, drawing my own conclusions about it and finding out afterwards I’d completely misinterpreted what was said, failed to “hear” what wasn’t said and, as a result, had no clue what to do next or why. And I remember thinking that the day I walk out of a meeting having understood what actually happened is the day I can begin to think about making a career of this. Apparently, I figured it out although, in our business, listening well is one of those things you can never do enough of or get good enough at.
Since coming to Slingshot five years ago, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to hone my listening skills. As an agency, we’re exceptionally good at collaborating (the subject for another post) and really listening to each other is essential to true collaboration. And, I’ll admit, it can also be a real workout when the personalities involved are as passionate, opinionated and expressive as they are at our place!
So, while we in the account group appreciate a good talker as much as anyone, our focus is on being good listeners first. We’re pretty sure our clients and our colleagues appreciate us all the more for it.