Asking your prospect all the correct questions is wasted if you don’t really hear what they are saying, whether expressed directly in words or more subtly in tones or partial hints. Do you hear everything that is being said? Do you understand it completely?
Being a good listener requires more than just keeping quiet while the other person is talking. Listening well is a difficult skill, but it can be mastered. Here are some tips on how to become a more effective listener.
- Listen proactively. There is more to listening than just passively hearing the words someone is speaking. One way you make sure you focus on what the person is saying is to “jump ahead” – i.e., anticipate what the person is going to say next or the conclusion he or she is about to make. This keeps you mentally involved and thinking. (Your prospect has told you that his company has lost several salespeople over the year. He has talked about the cost of recruiting new people and the time it takes to get them up to speed and producing. How might you anticipate the following sentence will end? “I guess the greatest negative impact on the bottom line has been ________.”)
- Become personally absorbed in what is being said. You can’t listen effectively if you are only “going through the motions.” Even less than absorbing information can be interesting. Every subject has some interesting angle, some impact on you or something you can learn. In order to uncover those elements, you must first abandon your prejudiced or preconceived ideas. If you enter into a conversation with the notion that the other person has nothing of interest or importance to say, you will miss what is important. Try to relate to the unrelated. Ask yourself how what the person is saying relates to other situations or experiences.
- Make a concentrated effort to listen. Don’t get distracted. Don’t let trivial things like the speakers appearance or random noises divert your attention from what they are saying. Listen to the speakers whole sentence. Listen not only for content, but context. Anytime you catch yourself being distracted by something that draws your attention away from the speaker’s words, make a conscious effort to focus back on the words.
- Focus on what the speaker is trying to say. Only 10% of what most speakers say is crucial. The rest is for illustration, explanation or transition. Focus in on the basic message. Try to pinpoint the main ideas the person is expressing. Ask yourself what the speaker is trying to say. If you’re not sure, ask, “Bill, I believe what I heard is…Am I on track?”
- Listen with your “gut.” The speakers tone and body language will impart meaning. These subtle clues are more quickly picked up by the unconscious mind and leave us with a particular feeling about the speaker. The next time you are left with a feeling about someone after a conversation – they are sincere, they are hiding something, they can’t be trusted, etc., – it is just a sign that your unconscious mind has put two and two together and come up with an evaluation.
- Understand what is being said. Keep asking yourself if you understand what is being said. If you don’t, ask for clarification – and keep asking until you are sure you fully understand. “Bill, I’m not sure I understand how….relates to…can you help me out?” What you don’t understand, you can’t recall. Additionally, if you don’t understand what is being said, your mind is more likely to wander and your listening effectiveness diminishes.
- Offer an intelligent comment. To keep your active attention on what is being said, get involved. If the situation permits, offer your own perspective on the what is being said. Ask a question or relate a relevant story that reinforces what the person is saying, or perhaps, represents a different point of view.