Listening has a huge impact on how we create, maintain, and cultivate relationships. Listening uncovers objections/needs, and allows you to know who you are dealing with. It is also the ultimate compliment because people love to talk about themselves. Product knowledge, features, advantages, and benefits are great, but if you don’t understand your customer’s needs, you won’t know where to apply your knowledge. Stop talking about yourself, and start learning about others. Listening is not hard, it just requires discipline.
We all have bad listening habits. Recognize any of these?
- Do you get distracted easily? A ringing phone or people walking by?
- Is your mind somewhere else? Your sales quota, maybe?
- Are you talking too much? Do you keep it at 25/75 for you/them?
- Are you just simply waiting for your turn to speak?
- Are you looking at your watch?
- Are you finishing other people’s sentences?
- Is it hard to maintain eye contact with someone speaking to you?
- Have you really given them a chance to speak?
- Do you interrupt?
- Do you think, “I’ve heard this before”?
- Do you anticipate what they will say?
- Do you ever find that you wonder what the other person just said?
- Do you begin to structure your remarks while they are talking?
- Do you LEAVE THE ROOM while someone is talking? “Yaya, keep talking, I’m listening…”
Self check: In a conversation, do you tend to be:
- In control?
- Dominating the conversation?
- Taking charge?
- Taking it from A to Z?
You might not be listening then, and be ruining the conversation by talking. If you are talking:
- You won’t learn anything about the person in front of you.
- You will base your solutions on perceived need, rather than real.
- You will not gain rapport
How do we become better listeners?
1. Seek to get deeper levels of listening and engagement.
This requires practice, but will increase your opportunities immensely, as the higher levels will gain you better information. See what levels you find yourself most commonly at:
- First Level – Acknowledgement that you are listening. Eg. “I see”, “Uh huh”, “Go on”, “Good point”
- Second Level – become engaged, emotional, and empathetic. Eg. “Wow!”, “Really?”, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
- Third Level – Ask a clarifying question. “Wow! Then what happened next?”, “Really? What do you think you could have done differently?”, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Howdid that make you feel?”
- Fourth Level – Seek to understand by summarizing. “Let me understand that for a second…”, “So you say that because…”, “What I think your saying is…
Summarizing and paraphrasing demonstrates clear understanding and allows for open, effective communication. Repeat the information you have just received and then seek to understand you have it correct. Here are some examples:
- “Let me make sure I understand…”
- “So what I think you are saying is…”
- “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you feel that…”
- “Let’s just review that for a second…”
IMPORTANT – after each one, add “Is that correct/right?” to ensure you got it. If not, STOP and clarify until you do. Encourage people to speak more and elaborate on their answers
- “Go on”
- “Tell me more”
- “Then what happens?”
- “Are you open to suggestions?”
2. Utilize PASSIVE listening.
Passive listening involves the non-spoken, component of the process.
- Shut up – Smile and pay attention
- Evaluate – Think out loud with your facial expressions
- Concentrate – Show focus
- Listen for clues – Lock them in
But also be careful that your passive listening isn’t interpreted as indifference.
Silence may NOT always be golden
3. Focus and be in the present
It is too easy to get distracted, especially today. To maximize your conversations, ensure you are prepared before any meetings or phone calls.
- Have pen and paper ready, so you don’t miss important details as some people will start into it right away.
- Have a rough draft either in your head or on paper of things you would like to discuss – key questions, ideas, conversation items, etc.
- Have time for your appointment – don’t overbook. This is a common mistake people make.
Be mentally aware and awake.
- Get enough sleep
- Before the appointment, use positive self-talk to ensure you really WANT to listen
- Continually evaluate your level of focus
- Don’t be in a rush – help them feel at ease
Eliminate distractions to increase active listening
- Clean your office. If your appointments are distracted, you will be too – eyes wander
- Turn off your phone during meetings. Make arrangements to have someone else answer your phone if necessary.
- ZIP IT. Ask your question, then shut up and wait for responses. You can’t listen if you are talking. Read more about being truly prepared on my post, “Sales Scripts are for Amatuers.”
4. Use questioning as a listening technique
Good questioning skills can speed up your process, and by asking the right questions you will direct the flow of the conversation. It shows people you are interested and care about what is happening on their end. Good questioning is a skill that you should develop, but especially use open-ended questions to stimulate listening. And incorporating paraphrasing with questioning will take you to the moon!
- “Tell me about…”
- “How did you…”
- “Why did you…”
- “What did you think when…”
- “How do you feel about that?”
- “You’ve told me about…Can you tell me more about why…? WOW!”
- “You mentioned that your family is very important. How does your family feel about these challenges you are facing?”
5. Be genuinely interested
Don’t just demonstrate that you are interested – BE INTERESTED! In order to make the most of your listening and questioning skills, you need to understand that the most fundamental thing you can do is be sincere in your efforts. To do well in any relationships, not just business, you need to WANT to understand about the other person. Turn off all distractions. Be in the moment. See it from their eyes.
And really care.
Start each interaction by setting your mind into how can I give first? Read more about that on my post, “Give First.”
There is also a big difference between sympathy and empathy. Being sympathetic to someone’s challenge is nice and it can show you feel bad about the situation they are in. ie. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
But empathy seeks to understand. Being empathetic means that you are taking the time to factor in all of the information you have learned, you see the challenge through the other person’s eyes, and you have been able to associate your own emotions to the problem. You can genuinely feel the same pain. And use your questioning and paraphrasing skills to get there. Sometimes, through this process, you empathize so much that the “you” becomes a “we.”
- “It sounds like that was a painful situation. How did that make you feel? Oh wow, I can see how that would bother you.”
- “So you’re telling me it went like this…and then that happened? I would have felt the same way and I totally understand why you reacted as you did.”
- “What could we have done differently? Was it even possible?”
Remember though, that empathy also has to be non-judgmental. Judging is a natural tendency, so we must work hard to first strive to understand in order to absorb more information.
5.1 Take notes and lots of them!
You are prepared, you are focused, you have the right questioning skills, and you care. To make the most of it, be an expert note taker. If you are really engrossed in a conversation with lots of information, you will begin to start to try and process that information. That will then, in itself, become a distraction. Tell the person you are speaking with, that you find the information valuable and ask if they mind if you take notes. They will feel even more valued because you have told them that what they are saying is important enough to capture on paper. You will then be able to use the notes to go back and re-confirm you understand the thoughts and ideas that have been discussed. Paraphrase from your notes! Use it as an extension of your conversation.
Remember, none of this is about manipulation or techniques. These skills are ones that, if you develop them properly, you will have more enriched conversations. And in turn, you will have more enriched relationships. Share this with others if you want them to have better relationships too!
“We will listen our way into more success than we will ever talk ourselves into.” – Joe Girard (ME)
NOTE: After I originally posted this, my good friend Chelsea, shared this fabulous TED Talk with me on listening!
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