Your success depends on communicating effectively, contributing to the the company’s bottom line and creating a positive performance environment. Successful organizations know good communication is more than just speaking, but more about connecting the sender and receiver of a message. The strongest influence on the quality and outcome of all communications is the ability to listen effectively. Only by listening effectively can you respond appropriately.
Listening means more than hearing, and includes receiving, interpreting, and responding appropriately to verbal messages and other cues, like body language. If you’re looking to improve your communication skills, listening is a good place to start.
This article is based on the interview video, Dr. David Sweet, CEO & Founder, FocusCore: Episode #38 Japan's Top Business Interviews
Tips to improve listening skills
After a person stops speaking, wait 3 seconds. Before you respond, give the person another chance to think, catch their breath, and maybe give you another piece of vital information. Let’s face it, most of us wait for our chance to jump into a conversation. When the other person speaks, we start to form our response that will prove we understand or that we have done one bigger or better. If you count to 3, you’ll give yourself the chance to ponder what someone says and show your good manners. As you often hear, nature gave us one mouth and two ears for a reason. Your job in sales is to use your ears. When someone else is speaking, you need to be quiet. This can sometimes be difficult, especially if the other person pauses. But that pause may be a way to collect thoughts. The silence may also feel uncomfortable, and the customer may fill it with a vital piece of information that you can use to help the sale.
Pay attention. This may seem so simple that we often forget about it. You must be, body and mind, focusing on what a person is saying, listening to the parts of the main ideas, the emotion that the words and message contain. Pay attention to the person. Don’t look at passing cars or people. Don’t turn around when you hear a noise behind you. Don’t keep glancing at what is happening behind the person speaking. Don’t look at the person’s blouse, pants, receding hairline or nostril hairs. Keep eye contact and pay attention. Pretend you work for the U.N. and global peace depends on your skill to pay attention.
Listen for feeling. It’s easy enough to listen to a message, but listen to the feeling underneath the message. This is called empathetic listening and is the best way to make sure you understand.
Respond with a question. Rather than responding with a statement after you count to 3, ask a question.
Use this phrase: “Tell me more about that.” This statement shows 1) you are interested, 2) that you are listening, and 3) you don’t assume you know what the person is talking about.
Review what the person has just said. Then continue to listen. Draw an outline in your mind’s eye of what the person is saying.
Echo what a person says. “So what I hear you saying is X, Y, Z. Is this correct?”
Use encouragers. Smile, nod your head, say: “uh-huh,” “yes,” “sure,” “I understand,” and “I see,” while keeping open body language.
Tell people you are a good listener. People will believe you and test you out at every opportunity. Then you will need to prove it every time you meet that person.
Suspend judgment. If I tell you about a friend of mine and say, “He was arrested,” you starting to form images and responses in your mind? Are you already distrusting, disliking or, even stronger, hating this person? We are conditioned to respond to people and make judgments. I’m asking you to suspend judgment, rather than closing your mind.
If a customer says, “Our current vendor is the worst! What a bunch of losers,” you need to proceed carefully.
For example, if you agree, you loose, because the customer will think after you leave the office: “That sales person just rips on his competitors. He is just trying to sell me, I don’t trust him.”
Or if for some strange, outlandish reason you agree, then you may give the customer a reason not to buy from you.
Don’t agree or disagree. You need to keep your poker face and listen, switch into logical mode and say, “That is interesting; tell me more about that.” Now you have opened yourself up for understanding.
Resist internal distractions. Focus on what the other person is saying. Ignore internal and external noises. We speak around 140 words per minute, but can effectively hear more than 400 words per minute! We tend to fill this gap with chatter from our brain, and this distraction gets us ready to jump into any conversation with a response at the first chance! Avoid this temptation. Concentrate on those 140 words as if they contain your success. They do!
Take notes. Most people only remember about 50% of what they hear. Jot down the reminders then fill in later with details.
Let people tell their story. A great deal of valuable information is revealed in a person’s narrative. Save your development and clarifying questions for later.
Listen with your entire body. Show you’re listening—lean forward, keep your arms uncrossed. Use good eye contact and nod in appropriate agreement. Try not to react to negative things.
Be aware of personal space. If you stand next to someone, don’t stand or sit too close. Also be aware of sitting too far away.