Are you really listening or just waiting to speak?

How long do we actually listen to another person before we start interrupting? How quickly do our own thoughts take over and we start thinking about what question to ask or what we need to say in reply even before they’ve finished speaking? Do we find ourselves interrupting the person to give our own opinion or finish their sentences before they are finished?

If this sounds like you, then you’re not listening, you are just waiting to speak and as the Native American proverb above says, “if we keep waiting to speak rather than listening we shall remain deaf”.

Many people, especially sales people are not trained to listen effectively. Sales people often worry more about what questions they should ask than pay proper attention to how well they listen. I used to think that questioning skills were our most powerful communication tool but over the years I’ve come to realise that listening is the number one, most powerful communication tool of all.

Listening is an essential part of communication and it is not the same as hearing. Being a good listener requires patience and willingness to pay attention and understand another person, even when we don’t agree with them.

Listening helps us solve problems at work and home. Listening helps us learn and see the world through the eyes of others. Listening opens our understanding and enhances our capacity for empathy. It opens up the possibility of potential with one another, which is a primary goal of sales people and their businesses.

Listening is particularly effective when disagreements arise. Effective listening can reduce the time it takes to solve problems, settle disagreements and bring back harmony and effective work flow.It is such a powerful experience to really be listened to.

However, due to all sorts of reasons, we do not listen as well as we should. Dr. Piyal Walpola, a Canadian medical doctor who writes the Wisdom through Mindfulness blog, reports that one clinical research study examined different parameters of emergency medicine residents taking a medical history. The study concluded that only 20% of patients completed their presenting complaint without interruption. In other words 80% of patients were interrupted during their initial presenting complaint. The average time to the first interruption was only 12 seconds!

I wonder what the average time to interruption by a sales person in a client meeting is? Perhaps we should time ourselves and all report back – let me know by completing our small survey and I will let you know the outcomes.

If you want to improve the quality of your listening use the following checklist as a guide, assess your own listening levels and next time you’re meant to be truly listening check how well you rate. Please note that you cannot be in more than one category at any given time.

Marginal Listening

  • minimal concentration and listening
  • easily distracted by customer/person’s thoughts and impressions
  • plays with the message but doesn’t really hear what is being said
  • misunderstandings are common
  • customer/person does not feel listened to
  • this listening is sometimes due to lack of confidence or the ‘old pro’ feels like they have heard it all before

Evaluative Listening

  • higher level of listening and concentration
  • actively trying to hear what the customer/person is saying but not making an effort to understand their intent
  • evaluates and categorises the overall argument
  • concentrates on preparing a response
  • ready with a response as soon as the customer/person is finished
  • forms an opinion about the words before they are finished
  • risks not accurately understanding the message being sent

Active Listening

  • refrains from evaluating the message
  • tries to see other’s point-of-view
  • attention on words spoken and on the customer/person’s thoughts and feelings
  • suspends personal thoughts and feelings to give attention solely to the customer/person
  • displays empathy
  • verbal and nonverbal cues to indicate listening
  • takes notes
  • use of verifying, clarifying and paraphrasing to confirm what they have heard.

Another surefire way to help you improve your listening skills is to make sure to take notes; it really does make you a better listener. Another tip is to create a positive, open space in your mind freeing yourself of any prejudices when you are listening, regardless of the other person’s initial impact on your own perceptions and judgments.

It can be a challenge to let go of judgments but it can be learned and it does work. Why not practise your listening skills with a colleague or friend, focusing taking turns to capture what they are saying and checking that you are not waiting to speak? Paraphrase back to them what they have just told you and see how accurate you are.

Hopefully we all know what it feels like when we have been listened to. We feel great knowing the other person understands us.We feel a sense of connection and empathy. There is clarity and connection and we feel we can move on in a purposeful manner.I propose that we take the Listening Challenge and aim to actively listen in all our client meetings and any other interpersonal interaction. We can then measure the outcomes to see just how successful listening can be for ourselves, our clients, our team, and our friends and families.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett practices as a coach, advisor, speaker, facilitator, consultant and writer and works across all market segments with her skillful team at BARRETT. Sue and her team take the guess work out of selling and help people from many different careers become aware of their sales capabilities and enable them to take the steps to becoming effective and productive when it comes to selling, sales coaching or sales leadership.To hone your sales skills or learn how to sell go to


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