“To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation.” – Chinese proverb
How true! Listening is the most impactful way I know to connect with another person. Unfortunately, it seems to me (and experts tend to agree) that most of us don’t know how to listen well.
It’s not hard to find examples of when we don’t listen as well as we should. Harvard Medical School conducted a survey of over 2,000 patients and concluded that not listening well is the number one reason most patients are dissatisfied with office visits with their physicians. This lack of listening had a direct correlation with how much patients trust their doctors.
In business, it’s estimated that poor communication costs companies USD26,000 per year per person. Now I’ll admit that not all of that can be attributed to poor listening but my guess is if we’d listen better, those lost dollars would decrease significantly.
The art of listening
What compounds our ability to listen effectively is that we speak at the rate of 150–200 words a minute but we can listen much faster than that – at the rate of 400–600 words a minute. That means it takes real discipline to listen intently.
It’s also easy to find excuses as to why we don’t listen well. We get distracted, or bored, or lose interest in what someone is saying. This might interest you: To Be A Better Leader, Listen With Ting We might think about other priorities (letting our mind wander), or feel hungry, or hear other people talking about something that might interest us more. It could be that we think we already know what the person is going to say (which happens in many sales conversations). Virtually, anything can interfere with our ability to concentrate and really listen.
We miss sales opportunities by not listening well. I’ll admit that listening well does take effort. We need to pay attention to the word choice, tone of voice, cadence and rhythm.
Active listening takes more than just listening with our ears. We need to pay attention to body language and facial expressions. These can give away a lot and lead to greater understanding.
When our customers are talking to us, we should be listening intently to what they are saying. They are giving us clues as to what it will take for them to buy our product/offering.
If we’re honest, we’d admit that many times during the sales conversation we are more focused on what we want to say next than what the customer is sharing. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
When we determine that we will actively listen and plan to do so, we shift our focus. We listen to develop understanding, asking follow up questions when needed. That’s how we learn the best way to position our product – and what we learn will likely help us deepen our business relationship with that customer. Read also: Are You Listening?
I believe effective listening is a state of mind and a belief as much as anything else. It’s something we should value. It’s a skill that we should develop, just like we develop the ability to ask better questions.
Learning to listen effectively will take time and practice, yet the opportunities to do so are boundless! Decide that for every conversation you have that matters (and they all do) that you will listen intently. Check out this video:
Jerry Acuff is the founder of Delta Point, Inc. a corporate consulting firm that focuses on building relationships with customers and employees and improving the effectiveness of sales professionals. He is the author of multiple books and has consulted the White House on health care reform. Care to share your experience in building business relationships? Write in to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Thought Of The Week articles, click here.