Marketing, sales, creative service, customer service, these are a must when running a successful business.
However, one of the most under discussed skills is the art of listening. Some mistake this action of hearing what someone says as the same as listening, but they're not the same, they are completely different.
There are two types of listening, passive and active, so what's the difference.
Passive listening is a one-way communication exchange, one hears but generally you are not fully processing or responding to information. Several factors contribute to this, lack of interest, confusion, boredom, and distractions. Remember the last time you were at a seminar and the subject matter didn’t resonate? You found yourself drifting, not totally engaged, that’s passive listening.
Active listening is the distinct practice of being prepared to listen, observing both verbal and nonverbal messaging, and listening on purpose. Listening with intent to understand what the other person is saying. I had a history professor who was so amazing, you would sit on the edge of your seat, wait to hear every word, you were excited, engaged; often the bell would ring to exchange classes and you wouldn’t hear it – that is active listening.
Becoming a better listener requires a conscious effort, practice, and self-awareness.
When you actively listen, you create a space and open remarkable opportunities to increase both sales and profits; and to have a higher perceived value from the person you're listening to. I find that when I actively listen to someone I am speaking with, I pick up on verbal cues, statements, challenges they’re facing – in a sale setting, each of these are opportunities for you to provide solutions. If you are not actively listening, you won’t pick up on these.
I must work hard on this, I found myself thinking about what I was going to say and how I would respond rather than leaning in and actively listening to what the person was saying. Even today I catch myself and modify my behavior. I now have trained myself to make the edits and changes on the fly.
Over the years, I have been mentored by some incredible people, I have learned so much and found if I work towards applying the skills below, my experience was more meaningful, and my relationships were strengthened with the people I encountered daily. This works both in business and in your personal life.
Take a few moments to read and reflect on these different concepts. Afterwards try applying them during your next conversation.
- Have great eye contact. By having good eye contact this shows a genuine interest in what the other person is saying.
- Be present. Avoid distractions, focus on the conversation at hand and do your very best to be present in the moment. This is also true when you are on the phone. I am certain you’ve experienced this; you can almost feel the disconnect even when you’re not looking directly at the person.
- During the conversation give verbal cues for instance “I see” or “I understand”, or “Tell me more” -this increases engagement.
- Avoid interrupting. I must admit this is the one which frustrates me the most, especially after they've asked a question and are looking for a response. Let the person finish answering the question before you respond. I learned some time a good practice was when you felt the person was finished making their point, count to 3 before responding. I find this to be excellent practice. This way you're not talking over one another and causing any potential confusion.
- As stated, practice active listening, give feedback, paraphrase what you've learned from the individual to ensure your understanding.
- The open to the possibilities. Don't jump to conclusions or prejudge while you listen.
- Control your emotions. There will be times when the conversation you're having is going to be difficult; make sure to remain calm, remain composed, especially if the conversation becomes emotionally charged. Try not to take things said personally.
- Dedicate your attention to what the speaker is saying, avoid multitasking.
- Be patient. Some people have a difficult time articulating what they're trying to say, if you give them some space, you will gain the respect of that individual in a meaningful way.
- Ask questions. When unsure make sure that you ask clarifying questions to gain a deeper understanding, especially if something isn't clear to avoid ambiguity. Never leave a conversation assuming, or in the dark.
- Avoid finishing sentences. Let the individual express their feelings and thoughts without you assuming their intent. If you happen to interrupt and you notice it, apologize, and then let them continue. There's nothing more frustrating than to be interrupted, have the person apologize and continue to speak. This is very disrespectful, and shouts, ‘your thoughts don’t matter’.
- Resist the urge to solve problems immediately. I like taking the time to digest what the person has said so that I can formulate a reasonable answer or response. In some cases, especially if you're dealing with employees, they just need to be heard. Give them that space. Come back with your responses, comments, and suggestions later.
- Be mindful of your body language. Judgmental body language and nonverbal cues like crossed arms, frowns, or eye rolling can make the speaker uncomfortable, and often shuts down the communication process.
- Be aware of cultural differences. Some cultures communicate differently, it's important for you to be mindful. When I would travel internationally to speak, it was imperative for me to be mindful of the cultural nuances. What I may say could be perceived as offensive or inappropriate in that culture. My recommendation is to do a deep dive, ask Google about the nuances of that country. It'll serve you well.
- Be attentive to listening for emotion in the conversation. Pay attention to the tone, and any emotions of the speaker; this potentially could uncover an underlying message.
- Take notes. I always ask permission. For instance, when you are on a sales call and you know you will be having a deep conversation, ask at the front end if the person minds if you take notes. By doing this, you capture some very essential points, and you will have a document you can reference later.
If you embrace these points, you will find you'll have a better opportunity to grow your business and have more meaningful conversations with those that you're speaking with. Reflect on your listening habits. Regularly assess and improve your listening skills by reaching out and asking for help and seeking feedback from others.
Before you go into a deep conversation, practice mindfulness - consider relaxing by doing deep breathing exercises in meditation, this will help improve focus and attentiveness. Before every presentation, I practice this.
Becoming a better listener is a journey that requires consistent effort and self-awareness apply these techniques can enhance your ability to connect with others and foster more meaningful relationships.
Until Next Month,
“Continued Good Selling” - CQ