A Sales Skill That is Often Ignored: Listening!

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen R. Covey

Are you a great listener? Most, if not all, sales professionals would say that they are great listeners. While most sales professionals would receive high grades many would be wrong if their clients or customers rated them objectively. Why? Because over the years it’s easy to lapse into complacency and occasionally interrupt the speaker before they are done speaking. As you know it takes practice and awareness to listen attentively. Remember that the letters in “listen” also spell “silent”. We should talk 20% of the time and listen 80%. It’s how we obtain information, understand and learn.

What Is Listening?

Listening is receiving language through the ears, understanding the message being conveyed and its importance to the speaker, and then communicating that understanding back to the speaker. It is one of the four essential language skills along with speaking, reading and writing.

When we were in school we were taught to speak, read and write. When was the last time you took a course in listening? Probably never! Yet listening is one of the most frequently used skills of sales representatives and yet the least mastered. It is a fundamental and foundational skill that can develop or loose relationships and win or loose deals.

The Three Types of Listening!

Do you know the three types of listening? If not, here is a quick refresher:

  • Selective Listening: This is hearing only what we want to hear. It’s when we filter the speakers words based upon our pre-existing assumptions and expectations. It’s like having a concrete bunker where we only let in certain words or phrases. We only hear portions of the message and immediately begin to formulate our reply without waiting for the speaker to finish. If you find yourself taking a “mental vacation” while listening you are using selective listening. Its downfall is that you often miss key pieces of relevant information.
  • Responsive Listening: This is when we listen closely for intent and context and encourage the speaker to keep talking. Often this is done by nodding our head in agreement when you’re face-to-face or by using phrases such as “I understand, please tell me more,” or “Please elaborate”.
  • Reflective Listening: This is hearing and understanding what was said and then repeating it back to the speaker to ensure there is mutual understanding. It demonstrates to the speaker that they have been heard accurately.

Tips to Enhance Your Listening Skills

These are some simple reminders to enhance your listening skills.

  1. Stop Talking

You cannot talk and listen at the same time. Remember Mark Twain said it best “if we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.”

  1. Pay Attention & Make Eye Contact

Give the speaker your undivided attention. Avoid distractions of any kind. You cannot listen attentively if you are focused on other people, sounds etc.

  1. Defer Judgment

Listen to learn. Do not begin to craft a response or assemble a rebuttal in your mind. Instead, listen for the nugget that provides you critical information.

  1. Demonstrate that You are Listening

Nod your head occasionally, smile, encourage the speaker to keep speaking by uttering phrases such as “Tell Me More” and keep your posture open and inviting. You are there to learn and then speak when it’s appropriate.

  1. Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Cues

Whether you are on the telephone or face-to-face nonverbal cues are always present. On the telephone listen for cadence, tone and voice inflections. When face-to-face watch for boredom, enthusiasm or irritation. This can be detected by the words used, facial expressions and body posture. Peter Drucker said it best “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”

  1. Ask Questions for Clarification

Questions should be asked for clarification of what you have heard and to ensure understanding. This demonstrates that you are engaged with the speaker.

  1. Be Patient

It takes people differing amounts of time to understand what you have said, compose a response to your question and then answer it. Long pauses should not be interrupted. Give the speaker time to respond.

  1. Provide Feedback

All of us have personal filters that often block or distort what we hear. Use reflective listening to paraphrase and repeat back what you think you have heard. Feel free to summarize key points periodically to ensure comprehension and understanding.

Parting Thoughts

In an often repeated psychological study researchers have explored the relationship between how much an individual talks (speaking time versus listening time) and how favorably they rate the conversation. Consistently researchers have found a strong positive correlation between speaking time and how favorably an individual views both their partner and how much they enjoyed the conversation. In other words, the more your partner or customer speaks, the higher they will rate you and their conversational experience.

It takes concentration, practice and determination to be a good listener. It is an acquired skill. If you are a great listener keep up the good work. If you need improvement follow these suggested tips. Good listening skills will improve your productivity and allow you to develop better customer and personal relationships.