We live in a society of poor listeners. Unfortunately, most salespeople fall into this category. We never learned how to listen. Even though well over half of human communication occurs through listening, we don’t receive any training in this area. We are taught how to read, write and speak, but rarely how to listen. The most my teachers in school ever said about listening was, “Class. Listen!”

But listening is the most important relationship skill you can practice. It’s a relationship skill because everyone needs to be listened to. Everyone! And when you listen to someone actively, with good focus, that person can feel it. To build trust and rapport with prospects, customers and referral alliances, listen well.

In addition to its relationship-building properties, listening helps you learn about your prospects, customers and referral alliances, so you’ll be in a stronger position to serve them. In a future article, I will explain how listening to your customers puts you in a position to create many more win/win situations. Without good listening habits, you will miss many opportunities to serve them, and yourself.

Learn to Manage Your Distractions

Becoming a focused and active listener is mostly a matter of managing the distractions. External distractions are things like noise, the phone ringing, a pretty woman or handsome man walking by, and interruptions in all their varieties. Internal distractions are things like preparing your response while the other party is still speaking, shutting down because you disagree with what the person is saying, and being preoccupied with judging the speaker based on his or her style or accent or clothing.

People usually talk at about 100 to 120 words per minute. But you can think at 400 to 600 words per minute. So even if you are paying close attention, you still have tons of free time in your head. How you manage that free time will determine the quality of your listening, and ultimately the quality of the relationships you establish.

Become An Active Listener

Dr. Tony Alessandra is a colleague of mine who is a fantastic and successful speaker. He has authored numerous books and tapes, including The Dynamics of Effective Listening, The Platinum Rule and Non-Manipulative Selling. Tony says there are three types of listening dynamics: marginal, evaluative and active listening.

Listening Error 1: Marginal listening

Marginal listeners may be guilty of:

  • Being preoccupied with their own thoughts or feelings.
  • Distracting the speaker with nervous mannerisms.
  • Conveying a self-centered, arrogant attitude.
  • Misunderstanding much of what has been said.
  • Not even hearing what has been said.

Here’s an example of marginal listening:

Customer: “You want me to take a whole day off from work so I can sit at home all day waiting for your repairman to show up?”

Customer Service Rep: “Our first available day is two weeks from Monday.”

(Meanwhile, the CSR is thinking, “Just a half-hour to go before lunch.”)

Listening Error 1: Evaluative Listening

Although better than marginal listeners, evaluative listeners still are not fully present. They are guilty of:

  • Categorizing or evaluating what is said rather than trying to listen and understand.
  • Concentrating on composing a response.
  • Making quick judgments about the speaker.
  • Finishing the speaker’s sentences.
  • Getting distracted by emotionally loaded words.
  • Rushing through the conversation.

Evaluative listening sounds something like this:

Customer: “You want me to take a whole day off from work so I can sit at home all day waiting for your repairman to show up?”
Customer Service Rep (defensively): “This is our busiest time of the year and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Active listening

Active listening takes desire and effort on your part. Active listeners:

  • Concentrate on what people are saying.
  • Control their impulse to finish people’s sentences. (They are patient listeners.)
  • Make an effort to see the speaker’s point of view. (They listen with empathy.)
  • Give feedback to the speaker.

Active listening leads to a sincere response like this:

Customer: “You want me to take a whole day off from work so I can sit at home all day waiting for your repairman to show up?”
Customer Service Rep: “I can see that would be a major inconvenience for you. Unfortunately, this is our busiest time of the year and qualified technicians are hard to come by. Could you arrange for a neighbor to let our service person in?”

Demonstrate That You Are Listening

There are many effective ways to show that you are paying attention and encourage the speaker to tell you more:

  • Use your body language to show interest and energy. Lean forward or put your hand on your chin. Make good eye contact (but don’t stare down the speaker).
  • Ask questions that relate to what they are saying.
  • Repeat back in your words (paraphrase) what they’ve said to ensure understanding.
  • Over the phone, vocally acknowledge with “uh-huh,” “yeah,” or “mmm” every 15 to 20 seconds so they know you’re listening.
  • Take notes.
  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Don’t clip the ends of their sentences.
  • Acknowledge what they’ve said before changing direction in the conversation.

It isn’t enough to listen actively. We must show the speaker that we are listening. If we don’t make that effort, the relationship value of our listening will be lost.

Active, focused listening is part of your attitude of service. It’s a gift you give to others so that they will feel more comfortable. It’s a gift that will pay you back many times over.

Bill Cates is an internationally recognized client-acquisition expert, author, and speaker focusing on the proven relationship marketing strategies. A successful entrepreneur, Bill started and sold two publishing companies. Turning his attention to help other businesses grow, Bill has written four best-selling books:  Get More Referrals Now, Don’t Keep Me a Secret, Beyond Referrals and Radical Relevance.

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Email Bill at BillCates@ReferralCoach.com or call  301.497.2200