Effective listening skills can be applied to all of our interpersonal and business relationships. We will become more effective listeners as we practice at home, in our business dealings, and in our social circles. One of the greatest gifts we can give another is that of truly listening.

Listening is incompatible with being in a hurry, or with the fast paced world around us. Such careful listening requires that we, at least for the moment, place time on slow motion and suspend our own thoughts and needs. There are no shortcuts to effective listening.

Silence makes people uncomfortable. Yet, one of the most important listening skills is not interrupting pauses, or periods of silence. When a person pauses they continue to think about the challenge. When we respect these pauses, by not interrupting, we are in essence offering the person a psychological chair to sit on; it is a way of saying “We are not going to abandon you.”

Becoming a good listener requires avoiding premature conclusions. Our effectiveness as a listener is often lost if we solve the problem before the person we are listening to successfully draws out of themselves their hidden thoughts. When people are truly heard, they will often come to their own correct insights. The role of the listener is to help empty the reservoir of emotion, anger, stress, frustration and other feelings until the individual can see more clearly. The art of listening may require consciously fighting to keep an open mind and not judging the other person. The role of the listener is to help and to allow the other person to open the flood-gates of their feelings and beliefs and to express themselves verbally, maybe for the first time.

Life is a stage, and we are all actors. More than anything, we want to stand on that stage and act out our parts and speak our hearts. Becoming a good listener allows others to take the stage. When we don’t listen, the actors play to an empty audience and the words from the stage ring silent and unfulfilled.

There are many ways we can signal an interest in listening and learning more. One of the most typical is to simply say, “tell me more.” True listening requires allowing the other person to do most of the talking. Most people are far better talkers than they are listeners. Why? Because talking is easy and natural for most of us, and few of us have ever spent the time and effort to learn how to listen. In the words of Alfred Benjamin, “Genuine listening is hard work; there is little about it that is mechanical…. We hear with our ears, but we listen with our eyes and mind and heart and skin and guts as well.”

There seems to be a growing realization of the importance of solid listening and communication skills in business. After all, lack of attention and respectful listening can be costly, leading to mistakes, poor service, misaligned goals, wasted time and lack of teamwork. The act of listening is less important than how you listen. By listening in a way that demonstrates understanding and respect, you build rapport, and that is the basic foundation from which you can sell, manage and influence others. The overall best sales performers are people who listen. They diagnose people’s inclinations and the logical content of their thoughts, needs and wants. They find out precisely what it will take to solve problems and then they act on what they’ve learned. You can’t sell unless you understand your customer’s problems.

Since most sales people talk far too much, and have never learned how to listen, here are seven concise steps to becoming a better listener. Apply these principles and watch your sales increase!

  1. Give your full attention on the person who is speaking. Don’t look out the window or at what else is going on in the room.
  2. Make sure your mind is focused, too. It can be easy to let your mind wander if you think you know what the person is going to say next, but you might be wrong! If you feel your mind wandering, change the position of your body and try to concentrate on the speaker’s words.
  3. Let the speaker finish before you begin to talk. Speakers appreciate having the chance to say everything they would like to say without being interrupted. When you interrupt, it looks like you aren’t listening, even if you really are.
  4. Let yourself finish listening before you begin to speak! You can’t really listen if you are busy thinking about what you want say next.
  5. Listen for main ideas. The main ideas are the most important points the speaker wants to get across. They may be mentioned at the start or end of a talk, and repeated a number of times. Pay special attention to statements that begin with phrases such as “My point is…” or “The thing to remember is…”
  6. Ask questions. If you are not sure you understand what the speaker has said, just ask. It is a good idea to repeat in your own words what the speaker said so that you can be sure your understanding is correct. For example, you might say, “When you said that no two zebras are alike, did you mean that the stripes are different on each one?”
  7. Give feedback. Sit up straight and look directly at the speaker. Now and then, nod to show that you understand. At appropriate points you may also smile, frown, laugh, or be silent. These are all ways to let the speaker know that you are really listening. Remember, you listen with your face as well as your ears!

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Copyright: The Business Performance Group, Inc.
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