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 them all the great thoughts I was formulating while they were 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.
Billionaire magnate Richard Branson claims that he practices “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% about engaging; it is, in fact, the most emotionally intense of human activities.”
In his new book The Excellence Dividend, Tom Peters writes, “I firmly believe that, after a half-hour conversation, if you are not exhausted, you were not seriously/fiercely/aggressively attentive.”
Another one of Peters’ books, The Good Listener’s Rules, gives the following listening tips:
- 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. It is not an invitation to interrupt
- A good listener never finishes
- A good listener becomes invisible and makes the respondent the centerpiece
And to quote the great humorist Will Rogers, “Never miss a chance to shut up.”
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. I mean listening to their customers. Every salesperson I have ever come in contact with is a terrible listener. You put a bunch of salespeople in 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 salespeople today. They just don’t get the fact that no one ever learned anything by talking.
And their worst fear, what gives most salespeople nightmares, is silence. Silence is the great enemy of listening. There has never been a salesperson who could stand silence. They feel it is their duty to make sure there are never any silences in any room they are in. The fact that silence makes them uncomfortable is the reason that so many salespeople fail.
What about you? Can you handle the silence? Are you a good listener? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- When you prepare 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 they are seriously considering giving you the order, do you remain quiet and wait for what they are going to say next? Or do you just keep talking, piling on the reasons why buying from you is be the best choice?
- When your customer is angry and wants to tell you what they do not like about your performance, do you keep quiet, giving them plenty of time to get the complaints out…to vent? Or do you keep interrupting them, so you can give them 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 they are getting from telling it? Or do you only half listen because you cannot wait for them to finish so you can tell them 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 they should buy from you, or kept making excuses while your customer was bailing 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 they 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.