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Your Business Commentary

Mike's often irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry-- with an occasional guest columnist.

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7 Steps To Being A Better Listener

Which will make you a more persuasive salesperson.

by Joe Takash (June 15, 2009)

Listening is as far from a passive activity as anything I can imagine. By being a passive hearer, you may take in some words but give nothing back. Listening requires thought and effort. It means you must work at listening with your head and heart and not just your ears. And it means learning how to respond to what is being said so that youíre listening communicates things your relationship partner needs to hear. Here are seven steps to take in order to gain listening wisdom:

1. Practice silence.

Remaining quiet can be a challenge. Youíre going to feel compelled to interrupt, to finish sentences and to add your two cents. It takes discipline to remain silent. Make a conscious effort to say nothing until youíre sure your relationship partner has finished his thought. This is easier written than done. Therefore, try practicing it at home before you do it at work. With a spouse or a friend, force yourself to stay silent during a conversation until theyíre done speaking. In many ways, itís more difficult to do this with someone you know well, since conversations are often filled with frequent interruptions by both parties. By practicing silence in a personal relationship, though, you learn the discipline of knowing when to be silent in a professional one.

2. Eliminate distractions.

Shut the door, turn off your cell phone, donít glance at the computer for email. If appropriate Ė if your relationship partner has communicated that he feels this meeting is important Ė clear your schedule and tell him that he has all time he needs to make his points. Similarly, donít bring up tangential or unrelated topics. You want the other person to feel youíve done everything possible to make 100% listening possible.

3. Focus your attention.

This means you canít daydream, dwell on how youíre going to respond or tune out the other person. Giving your boss or customer your undivided attention is just that Ė a gift. Reflect on what sheís trying to tell you Ė consider the literal meaning and also read between the lines. Donít allow a ringing phone, a conversation going on outside the office, or anything else distract you. People are remarkably sensitive to another individualís attention Ė or lack thereof. They can somehow tell if youíre only listening at 50%. Give them 100% if you value the relationship and the results it can produce.

4. Show non-verbal attentiveness.

We communicate most of our messages without opening our mouths. Itís not enough just to listen attentively; you need to demonstrate this attentiveness. Three easy ways to do so to nod, make eye contact, and smile. Shifting uneasily in your seat or glancing around as if youíre waiting for the police to arrest you are not ways to communicate your attentiveness. Impassive, immobile listeners seem bored. Use your eyes and body language to convey that youíre anything but bored.

5. Use the "repeat principle".

Paraphrase what you thought the other person said. For instance, "If Iím hearing correctly, youíre telling me that ...." By asking your relationship partner to repeat what you believe is an important point, youíre demonstrating that you want to listen better. Requesting clarification communicates your desire to know exactly what is meant. Now, you can over-use this technique. If you do, youíll come off as inattentive or hard-of-hearing. Wait until you really arenít clear on what heís saying. Or wait until the other person says something where heís placed a lot of emphasis Ė either through his tone of voice or because he tells you, "This is important." This gives you the opening you need to apply the repeat principle.

6. Empathize.

Empathy is essential for results-producing relationships, and itís especially crucial in listening. You have 101 ways to communicate your empathy, not all of them verbal. A knowing look, a nod of your head, a sigh Ė these gestures can communicate you "get it" faster and more empathically than a long-winded speech. Donít try to over-empathize Ė you donít have to make a melodramatic show of how youíre relating to what a client or manager is telling you. Sometimes empathy can be expressed by relating your own experience relative to what your relationship partner has described. Sometimes a simple, "Believe me, I know what youíre going through with Jim" will get the job done. Empathy really is nothing more than showing you have listened with your heart as well as your head.

7. Ask good questions.

Have you ever been in an audience when the speaker asks, "Does anyone have any questions?" and no one responds? Itís as if he never spoke at all Ė or no one paid any attention to what he said. If you donít ask any questions during a conversation Ė or if you just ask perfunctory questions Ė youíre going to create the same effect. So donít be shy about asking a few good questions. Even one good question may be enough to show that youíve listened intently. If youíve ever listened to a press conference, you know what I mean. Typically, a politician or pro sports coach is asked a bunch of inane questions, and then one member of the media asks the question that really sheds light on a situation. You want to ask that good question. Maybe your boss has just told you that he canít stand his own boss and doesnít know how to deal with his unreasonable requests; that he canít sleep nights, that heís spending too much work time trying to placate his boss than get real work done. So your good question might be: "Can you talk to the CEO or someone in management and ask them to intervene?" A good question demonstrates youíve followed the logic of the conversation and are thinking about possible solutions/actions. Thatís the mark of a perceptive listener.

Listen with the selfless attitude of a saint.

To be a superior listener, you must temporarily forsake ego. To reap the full relationship benefits of being a good listener, youíre going to have to forget about YOU. Obviously, you do have an ego and you canít disappear entirely Ė nor should you. But being able to do so at key times in a conversation will increase your value to this other person.

(Note: Joe Takash is the author of the newly released Results Through Relationships: Building Trust, Performance and Profit Through People, as well as a sought-after media resource and keynote speaker. As the founder of performance management firm Victory Consulting, Joe has worked with clients like American Express, Prudential, Century 21, and General Motors. Results Through Relationships can be purchased at www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.com, and ordered through any major bookseller. His website is www.JoeTakash.com. To read previous Business-Wise entries, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)

xxx

 

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