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How to be a better listener

Someone has said, “The measure of your ability to communicate is the results you see.” While that’s a provocative statement, I don’t agree. Certainly it’s true that if you don’t get your message across to the listener, you haven’t really communicated. But unless you as speaker are the only one who cares, the process of communication is not solely your responsibility.

Take, for example, yesterday’s sales fiasco between an account executive and his prospect. Apparently, the salesperson and buyer had had previous discussions about pricing for coaching three executives over a period of 12 months.

The buyer kicked off the conversation this way: “After the pricing you gave me last week, I’ve given this project a lot of thought. Basically, I think we need to change our approach here. This is a huge investment for coaching just three executives. I think what we need to do instead is have you work with our entire management team in a retreat setting. We could accomplish the same goals in a much shorter timeframe––helping more people––all for the same fee.”

The account executive responded, “So you want to move ahead with the coaching?”

I stared in disbelief. Apparently, the rep had had an out-of-body experience for the last 60 seconds while the buyer had said just the opposite.

If you yourself ever have a spouse, friend, or total stranger (or heaven forbid, a customer or prospect) complain: “You’re not listening to me!” take these tips to heart:

Recognize That Listening Is Not Waiting Your Turn to Talk
The absence of talk is not the same as listening.

Listen for What Is Not Said
Why did the talker decide not to tell you a particular fact? Why did the boss not mention the delay on the related projects? Why did the customer not mention volume discounts when she always buys on price? What’s not said can be as revealing—and as important––as what appears in the headlines.

Recognize “Stoppers” Before You Deliver Them
When someone starts a serious conversation with you, your reaction will either encourage that person to keep talking or stop him cold. Stoppers include commanding, threatening, moralizing, advising, lecturing, criticizing, and interrogating.

Avoid Me-Too Interceptions
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with my teenager; he’s totally irresponsible when it comes to money.” Response: “Oh, do I ever identify with that! I’ve mentioned that my oldest is a junior at the university. Out in an apartment on his own. Well, the other day he calls me up and says . . .” Before you know it, the situation has been reversed. The person who introduced the subject and wanted to express frustration is now the listener for the other person’s saga. Yes, empathetic listening means that we share common experiences, but the key is timing. Take care not to intercept the conversational ball.

Use Silence to Encourage the Talker
Recruiters understand this as their best tool to find out more about a job applicant. Silence makes some people uncomfortable, and they will do anything to fill it. Whether by making someone uncomfortable so that he will chatter on with revealing information or by inviting a frustrated friend or buyer to unload, silence encourages talk.

Listen All the Way to the End; Don’t Assume
Doctors and their patients provide the best illustrations of this common weakness. After the doctor has seen three patients during the morning, all complaining about headache, fever, and upper respiratory problems, the fourth patient gets half an ear. The doctor begins to write out the prescription before the patient finishes giving the symptoms. I would venture a guess that our health-care system pays for a great many unnecessary medical procedures and tests for exactly this reason. The one word not can make a whopping difference in someone’s meaning. Listening costs less than testing.

Listening is one of the key ingredients of the most successful performers and the downfall of poor performers. Awareness is half the battle.

Dianna Booher, an expert in executive communications, is the author of 45 books, published in 25 countries and 19 languages.  Her latest books include Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader and Communicate with Confidence, Revised Edition. As CEO of Booher Consultants and as a high-caliber keynote speaker, Dianna and her staff travel worldwide to deliver focused speeches and training programs to address specific communication challenges and increase effectiveness in oral, written, interpersonal, and organizational communication.

Related Links:

Did You Ever Wonder Why There is a T in the Word Listening?

Why Managers Must Develop Effective Listening Skills

Improve Listening Skilss: 3 Simple Steps To Listen Effectively For Better Communication

How to Communicate Better with Superior Listening

6 thoughts on “Listening Skills: Are You Really Hearing What Customers and Colleagues Are Saying to You?”

  1. And I’d add one more:
    know your customer’s listening style so you can respond in a way that fits with his/her interests and needs–or said another way, The Golden Rule really doesn’t apply to listening. Instead of Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; it should be Do unto others as they want.

  2. Good morning Dianna!
    Well said my friend. Far too many confuse hearing, which I consider a gift, with listening, which is that elusive, yet imperative skill you mention. You did a wonderful job in helping us all to remember key pointers to truly listening well and effectively, whether one is a leader of an organization, an account, a family, a group of friends, or even just the voices in one’s own head!
    Thanks for sharing this and for your wisdom!

    1. Monica, as a keynoter, you’ve obviously noticed the difference between those in your audiences who listen and those who hear. Some sit and soak. Others take action on what you say. Makes a huge difference!

  3. Dianna:
    Listening is one of those skills we can never be too good at (yes, I know–I just ended the sentence with a preposition. I suppose grammar is one of those skills too ;-). Your tips are priceless, and they will be put to action. Thank you!

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