“How to improve my active listening skills” originally appeared as my guest blog entry in the PropertyADD web site in early 2010.
The mark of a great salesperson is that they spend a great deal of time listening rather than talking. They listen actively – putting a great deal of energy into showing that they are paying attention, respecting the speaker, understanding and keen for the speaker to continue speaking. It is also an important skills for psychologists in counselling.
Active listening is a skill. It takes effort and concentration. Consider how easy it is for your brain to switch to automatic pilot as you silently think things like “I’ve heard all this before”, “Here they go again” or “There’s nothing of value for me in this exchange” and your eyes glaze over.
Your brain is a wonderful thing. When you adopt a preconception or hypothesis about someone or label them as being, for example, as being “difficult”, your brain filters out all the information that contradicts your theory – so you miss it – and you only hear the information that confirms your initial belief. Effective selling means really paying attention to what is being said – and how it is being said – so that you learn more about the way someone thinks, what their needs might be and so opportunities to progress the sale are picked up.
So here are some tips to help you listen more actively. Try them out during your next sales call:
- Sit or stand with an open stance (no folded arms or other barriers) – you need to convey your openness in a non verbal way.
- Maintain eye contact – this is one of the most important ways in which you signal that you are interested in the speaker and paying attention. Eye contact is also used as a cue or as permission for the other person to continue speaking.
- Summarise key points on a regular basis – this reassures the other person that you are paying attention. It also gives them the opportunity to correct or add to the information if necessary.
- Provide continuation prompts – e.g. “Yes”, “Then what?”, “I see” or even a smile or a nod. This encourages the other person to keep speaking and maybe elaborate on a key point. You might also ask for elaboration or more detail or specific examples
- Eliminate distractions – if noise or nearby activity keeps tugging at your attention, move so that you can concentrate on the conversation.
- Ask questions about points that have been made – this shows that you are listening and interested and again encourages the other person to expand on an important point.
- Take notes – this will help you retain the information, remember key points for the future and shows you are alert. But remember to re-establish eye contact regularly.
- Ask for clarification – again, this shows you are listening and interested.
- Think about what makes a good listener – there will be people around you who are either great or poor listeners, model your behaviour on the good ones.
- Make sure that you can hear – Sometimes you may need to move away from a source of noise, or ask someone to speak up if you are having difficulty paying attention. When you are speaking, ensure that you do so at a volume where others don’t have to strain to hear
- Do not ‘switch off’ – if you feel you are losing concentration, then ask a question or summarise a key point.
And if you ask a question, don’t be tempted to start talking if they don’t respond immediately. Sometimes people need time to think and gather their thoughts. Be comfortable in the odd moment of silence.
Remember too, that people are more likely to be receptive to what you have to say if they have been able to express all their thoughts on the matter – and highlighted the important issues first. People are more likely to trust someone who has taken the time to listen carefully to what they have said.
If you are in a sales situation, then the more information the other person has provided then the more likely it is that you will have identified some trigger or angle that will make your pitch more relevant to them.
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