Pay attention

Are good salespeople good talkers? No. They’re great listeners. By SUE BARRETT

Sue Barrett

By Sue Barrett

Ever misinterpreted or missed hearing important information, which meant that you missed a vital opportunity? You’re not alone. Listening has always been, and still is today, one of life’s most vital skills. With so much competing for our time and attention I have found the effectiveness of mine and others listening skills are being increasingly challenged.

Where I notice my deficit in this area the most is when I go home after a busy day and my children tell me their day and I realise my head is still full of my work and other priorities and I am not really listening to them as I would like.

I have made it my practice of crossing off things done on my “to do” list, however I realise that I still the need to focus on how effectively I really listen. I figured I probably wasn’t alone here hence this topic for your review.

So how well do you rate your listening skills? How accurately do you hear and interpret what others say to you? How easily are you able to break your own preoccupation with yourself and really tune into another person and what’s important to them?

Contrary to the popular myth “good sales people are good talkers”, the truth is that excellent sales people are the better listeners and interpreters of other people’s information. They accurately record and reflect what the other person is saying to the point where the other person(s) feels heard, understood and respected.

I can’t stress the importance of effective listening to your success as a sales person, manager, leader, team member, parent, friend, mother or any other role you have in your life. Listening is a vital life skill that serves you well in many situations. However if not done properly you can miss many opportunities and annoy people in the process.

However I find that people are often unaware that there are different types of listening, not all of which are effective. If we are to truly practice effective listening we need to practice and apply active listening skills.

Listening is not the same as hearing. Hearing is the first part and consists of the perception of words being spoken. Listening, the second part, involves the attachment of meaning to what is being said. Passive listening occurs when the listener has little motivation to listen carefully. Active listening with a purpose is used to gain information, to determine how another person feels, and to understand others. It requires effort on your part but the rewards are gratitude, respect and closer relationships.

Listening can be one of your most powerful communication tools!

So what are the barriers to effective listening?

There are a number of things that can become barriers to effective listening and communication. People can build up barriers through personal insecurities or even through simple imbedding stemming from their cultural upbringing.

When it comes to listening, there are three levels of listening that we can exhibit.

Why not rate your current listening skills using the following checklist:

1. Marginal listening

  • Minimal concentration and listening.
  • Listener easily distracted by thoughts and fleeting impressions – leads to blank stares or inappropriate silences. This annoys the customer and causes communication barriers.
  • Listener plays with the message but doesn’t really hear what is being said.
  • Lots of room for misunderstanding.
  • Customer feels the person serving them is not listening.
  • This type of listening is sometimes due to lack of confidence – the person is focusing too hard on what they will say next.
  • Or the old pro may feel they’ve heard it all before. They may want the customer to hurry up so they can get on with the important stuff.

2. Evaluative listening

  • Second level of listening requires higher level of listening and concentration on customer’s words.
  • Actively trying to hear what the customer is saying but you’re not making an effort to understand their intent.
  • Instead of accepting and trying to understand the message, this listening evaluates and categorises the overall argument and concentrates on preparing a response.
  • Often anticipates the listener’s words and is ready with a response as soon as the customer is finished speaking.
  • Most of your attention is on a response, therefore you form an opinion about the customer’s words before they are finished.
  • Risk of not accurately understanding the message being sent.

3. Active listening

  • Refrains from evaluating the person/customer’s message and tries to see their point of view.
  • Attention not only on words spoken but also on the thoughts, feelings of the person/customer.
  • Requires a suspension of personal thoughts and feelings to give attention solely to listening.
  • Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.
  • Indicate to the person/customer through verbal and non-verbal cues you are listening.
  • Good use of verifying, clarifying and paraphrasing.

Another good tip when practicing active listening is to take notes and use them when you a paraphrasing what the other person has said. However all too often I see sales people not taking notes, relying only on their memory. After several meetings, not matter how alert you are, relying on your memory when you have so many other things on your agenda is a risky practice I would rather not undertake.

Taking notes combined with active listening skills is a useful, yet simple strategy that serves you very well on all levels. As I said, when done properly the person you are listening to feels heard, understood and respected.

Sue Barrett is founder and managing director of BARRETT, a boutique consultancy firm. Sue is an experienced consultant, public speaker, coach and facilitator. Sue and her team are best known for their work in creating high performing people and teams. Key to their success is working with the whole person and integrating emotional intelligence, skill, knowledge, behaviour, process and strategy via effective training and coaching programs. Click here to find out more

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