“Seek First to Understand – Are you Really Listening?” is Habit #5 from Stephen Covey’s classic self-help book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. At Harrington Group, we try to manage our interactions with our employees and our customers in a manner that is consistent with the 7 Habits and the timeless principles that underpin them.

The results of not listening to your clients can be disastrous. Recently, a client of ours, who owns manufacturing facilities around the world, endured a property loss control insurance inspection at one of their key facilities that was a complete failure. I was there to witness it. The root cause of this failure was the insurance company representative who did not possess the ability to listen, nor the desire to even try.

A Favor Gone Wrong

This particular inspection was unique because a senior engineer was assigned to perform a “second set of eyes” inspection accompanied by the regular “junior” engineer assigned to the site.  A second set of eyes can validate the regular inspector’s observations and provide a fresh point of view. Normally, it’s a healthy business practice that benefits both the insurance company and the insured, but not in this case.

My role was to observe the inspection and assist by answering any questions the senior insurance engineer had about the various fire protection systems at the site or my client’s policies and procedures regarding property loss control.

This senior engineer spent an inordinate amount of time in the electrical yard.  This is where the main power lines from the power company come onto the plant property and connect to the main transformers and related equipment.  He remained in this electrical yard for several hours while he did a risk assessment and provided training to the junior insurance engineer.  During this time, I stood by and waited along with several plant employees.

Looking and Listening Longer

When the senior insurance engineer was finally finished, I questioned his intentions.  He explained that he had concerns about the electrical equipment and whether or not it met the insurance company’s loss control standards.  I then explained to him that the insurance company he worked for did not even insure the electrical equipment or anything related to failure of this equipment.  He proceeded to argue with me in front of our mutual client’s employees.  I suggested that he place a call to his company’s management and ask them.  We walked to the office and he made the call.  He turned red even before hanging up the phone.  He confirmed that his employer did not have any liability for damages arising out of the electrical equipment failure, and that essentially he had wasted several hours of our time needlessly.  This senior engineer had not even bothered to review the file prior to this visit and familiarize himself with the scope of services he was expected to perform.

This “second set of eyes” property loss control inspection was promoted by the insurance company as a value-added service.  Instead, it provided no value at all, and wasted the valuable time of several key plant employees who certainly could have used this time to better benefit.  This incident did severe damage to the insurance company’s reputation in the eyes of their client.  This occurred because the senior insurance engineer was the type of person who did not have the interest nor ability to listen and learn from others.

Before someone will care about what you know, they need to know that you care. It’s obvious when people jump to conclusions and make a judgment call before they’ve gathered the full story. If you aren’t listening to your employees or clients, you are destroying their trust.

By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.