Mark Twain is reputed to have said: “The difference between a word and the right word is like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” And it was Mr. Twain’s words that triggered my own observation about listening, which is as follows:
The difference between listening and effective listening is like the difference of a tree falling in an empty forest and you being there to hear it come crashing down.
Okay, So maybe I don’t have the same gift for turning a phrase as Mr. Twain, but hopefully you get my point. It’s been my observation from forty plus years of selling that ineffective listening causes more lost sales and unhappy customers than just about anything else I can think of. You see, according to various studies the average salesperson spends eighty percent of each day engaged in verbal communications. About half of that time is spent listening, but less than twenty-five percent is effective listening.
What is Listening?
Listening involves four key steps:
- Hearing - when your ears sense sound waves - is step one.
- Interpretation - that leads to understanding or misunderstanding - is step two.
- Evaluation - where you weigh the information and decide how you will use it - is step three
- Reaction - is based on the information you’ve heard, interpreted and evaluated. This is step four.
An effective listener will increase sales and profits by gaining a better understanding of what the customer’s problems are. And in order to be a better listener we should listen like a child.
You see, most young children are effective listeners because they haven’t yet learned bad listening habits. Here’s a story that illustrates my point:
Three sales reps were driving across the state of Florida on a very hot and humid day in August. While approaching the town of Kissimmee (Ki-sim-ee) they, like many others, find themselves in a discussion, an argument, of what is the proper pronunciation of the word. One says Ka-sam-ee, another Kiss-a-me, and the third Ka-miss-a-me.
This discussion went on for some 90 miles and as they entered the town, being hot and thirsty, they pulled into the first fast food restaurant they came upon. The cute freckled faced 16-year-old counter girl asked, as she was instructed to do, “May I help you?” One of the sales reps leaned over the counter and said, “Young lady, before we order, will you please tell us how you pronounce the name of this place?”
To which she looked him in the eye and slowly replied: “Bur-ger-King.” She listened, listened like a child and responded to his exact question.
You can relearn listening by practicing these six easy steps:
Focus all of your attention on the person you are listening to. Ignore all your internal thoughts and external distractions (other people, ringing telephone, etc.). Now this is not easy to do. Here’s why: The average person speaks at about 150 words a minute, but we can listen to about 500 words a minute. So a poor listener spends the time between the speed with which he listens and the speed the speaker is talking by daydreaming or thinking of what he is going to say next, or on what the speaker is going to say next. It’s like listening to two voices at the same time and almost impossible to do effectively.
Show interest in the speaker by verbal and nonverbal methods. Let the person know you are listening by saying, “I see,” “Yes,” “Uh-huh,” and give nonverbal signs of listening by nodding your head, looking the speaker in the eye, smiling, and making positive gestures.
- Ask Questions
Become a part of the discussion by asking questions so that you can learn exactly what the speaker is saying. Another reason to ask questions is to redirect the conversation to a positive selling situation.
Maintain Control of your emotions when sensitive words and statements arise. Such topics as religion, politics, and layoffs of your operations or yourself must be viewed as an opportunity to understand the speaker’s position. Do not take criticism personally. Always thank the person criticizing for their opinion and move on to solving the problem.
- Observe Changes
Keep an attentive ear attuned to changes in the speaker’s volume, pitch, rhythm, inflections, clarity, and speed. This will tell you when they are changing their mood and what is important to them.
Watch for visual messages or changes in the speaker’s body language, body posture, facial expressions, movement of hands, arms, legs, etc. This will tell you what he or she is feeling.
Listen like a child and learn what the customer’s real problems are. Because the person who solves the customer’s real problems... will get the sale.