I’ve been concentrating on listening lately. I mean really listening, not doing what I usually do, which is to wait for the person I’m talking with to finish talking so that I can tell him all the great thoughts I was formulating, while he was talking. It’s not easy to listen, we are all so in love with the sound of our own voices, that we barely take the time to really listen, and really hear, what the other person is saying.
Entrepreneur, Richard Branson, claims that he practices what he calls “aggressive listening” He says that most of us view the act of listening as a passive act, when, it should be an active action. He goes on to say that “listening is 100 percent about engaging; it is in fact the most emotionally intense of human activities.
Tom Peters says in his new book, The Excellence Dividend “I firmly believe that if, after a half-hour conversation, you are not exhausted, you were not seriously/fiercely/aggressively attentive.”
Once again from Peter’s book: The Good Listener’s Rules
- A good listener exists totally for the given conversation. There is nothing else on earth of any importance to me for the time I am listening.
- A good listener keeps his/her mouth shut
- A good listener gives the other person time to stumble toward clarity without interruption. No matter how long the pause (keep quiet) when someone is thinking before talking is not an invitation to interrupt.
- A good listener never finishes
- A good listener becomes INVISIBLE; makes the respondent the centerpiece
And to quote the great humorist Will Rogers, “Never miss a chance to shut up.”
Okay, why am I going on about this listening thing? Why do I bring up this subject two or three times a year? Simple, because I am a sales consultant and I am a total failure when it comes to getting people to listen. Oh, I don’t mean listening to me. No not at all, I mean listening to their customers. Every sales person I have ever come in contact with is a terrible listener. You put a bunch of sales people in a room like say, at a sales meeting, and all you’ll hear is chattering, you will never see everyone listening as one person speaks. I dare say, it is the single most challenging problem facing sales people today. They just don’t get the fact that no one ever learned anything while talking.
And their worst fear, I mean what gives most sales people nightmares, is silence. Silence is the great enemy of listening. There has never been a sales person who could stand silence. They feel it is their duty to make sure there are never any silences, in any room they are in. And the fact that silence makes them uncomfortable, is the reason that so many sales people fail.
What about you? Can you handle the silence? Are you a good listener? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- When you prep for a sales call, do you focus on what you are going to tell the customer? Or, do you focus on what you are going to ask the customer?
- When the customer tells you that he is seriously considering giving you the order. Do you remain quiet, and wait for what she is going to say next? Or do you just keep talking, piling on the reasons why buying from you be the best choice?
- When your customer is angry and wants to tell you what he does not like about your performance, do you keep quiet, giving him plenty of time to get the complaints out…to vent? Or do you keep interrupting him, so you can give him the excuses for why you messed up?
- When a customer is telling you an interesting story, say about meeting a famous person, do you listen quietly and appreciate not only the story, but the enjoyment she is getting from telling it? Or, do you only half listen because you cannot wait for her to finish so you can tell her about an even more famous person you’ve met?
I think by now you get the point. In each of these examples there was a proper way to have a conversation, and a wrong way, which way did you go? If you were only thinking about what you were going to tell that customer; or kept piling on the reasons, he should buy from you; or if you kept making excuses while your customer was balling you out; or if you have a tendency to play “can you top this” with the person who is telling you about the famous person she met, then you need to go to listening school, You need to take the art of listening seriously enough to read Richard Branson’s recent book, The Virgin Way: How to Listen, Learn, Laugh, and Lead. And start listening for a change. It’s only common sense