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How to Become a Terrific Listener

My colleague just asked, "You weren't even listening, were you?" I thought, "What an odd way to start a conversation."

How well you listen may be the single biggest factor in the success of your career and in the quality of all your relationships. If you’re in a revenue-generating role, the research is overwhelming regarding the need for this skill. According to HubSpot Research, 69% of buyer respondents said the top thing required for a positive experience is that “the sales representative listens to my needs.” Further, the number one driver of loyalty according to thousands of NPS surveys from both clients and employees is that they feel “someone takes the time to listen to my needs and wants”.

Sounds really simple, right? I mean, given all the the conversations we have every day, you would think we'd all be great listeners!

Fact is, most of us are not, (queue up the studies about only remembering 20% of what we hear). The reason? We don’t actively listen; we only hear. There’s a big difference.

Active listening means that you are in the conversation to understand the other person, their point of view, and/or their perspective, which we call being in their operating reality. It does not mean you are preparing to respond. Sadly, most people trying to "make a sale" have 2 settings in a conversation – 1. talking and 2. waiting to talk.

To become a terrific listener, here are 6 tips that could be the key to your success in work and in life:

1. Stop everything and just listen

Life is fast, you have a million things on your mind and have probably mastered the art of talking on the phone, responding to emails, updating CRM and sending texts…all at the same time. (Hopefully not while reading blogs, though.) Active listening requires that you spend your energy processing what you are hearing so you really need to focus on being present, not multi-tasking.

2. Listen with the intent to understand, not respond

Approach each conversation with the intent to learn something. It's very hard to learn anything while you are talking. Strive to talk less and think about what you are learning. It's often helpful to repeat what the speaker is saying in your mind, instead of thinking what you are going to say.

3. Ask questions to check your understanding

Asking great questions signifies to the other party that you are a terrific listener. “Tell me more about…”. And “Why does…?” are two great ways to begin your questions. If you are actively listening, you will be able to dig deeper with your questions and put yourself in a position to help solve their problems or add value in a unique way. For the record, “What?” - not a great question.

4. Rid yourself of your internal filters

Our brain is amazing. It remembers feelings, things and experiences; all to make learning faster and easier. The problem is that unless we are intentional about actively listening, we allow our brains to take over and apply filters from the past (because it’s faster and easier for our brains) that distort our ability to listen. For example, a salesperson who hears the same objection multiple times begins to assume that everyone has the same reason for giving that objection. Consequently, they don’t ask questions to try to understand why, they simply give their standard response – they talk and wait to talk.

5. Recognize when you stop listening due to your emotions

Sometimes, we don't like what we hear so we stop listening and start planning our rebuttal. Sometimes, we have decided how we feel about the person who is speaking (and it’s not good), so we don’t bother to listen with any desire to understand; if we listen at all. Trust me, if you decide that your customer is a pain in the neck, your listening will suffer. And as a result, you’ll likely lose that customer.

6. Don't interrupt and embrace the silence

Commit to summarize what you have heard and what you have learned. That will help keep you from interrupting. Interrupting frustrates the speaker and limits your ability to fully understand the message. Use phrases such as; “To recap...” or, “I’d like to make sure I ...”. And embrace silence. Allow the speaker to finish each point before asking questions or responding. Let a pause between their sentences sit for a few seconds just in case the speaker has a little more to add. You will be glad you slowed down when your relationships speed up.

In the words of Maya Angelou,

"People will never forget how you made them feel."

Being heard makes everyone feel valued. Terrific listeners always make people feel valued. You can become a great active listener. But you'll need to be intentional about developing and practicing it until it becomes a habit.

At Butler Street, the foundation of how we train sales and recruiting professionals is developing the skills of active listening. Contact us and let's discuss how we can help your team develop their active listening skills.

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