For many people, your ears are the most underutilized part of your body. You’ve heard the old adage that “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason!” Active listening can be the most advanced selling, management and leadership tool at your disposal.
One of my clients who is in the financial investment field said to me once, “I had a prospect who I had been courting for quite a while and out of the blue she called me to tell me that she will be coming into some serious money very soon and might want to use my investment services!” To which my client (of course before I started to coach her) say in return, “Great, let me know when you need me.”
Wow, are you shocked by that return statement too?
Looking in from the outside you are probably saying, “how can this person totally ignore the fact that their prospect is asking to work with you?”
Well don’t judge too harshly, we have all done something similar as my client had done. Because we are so conditioned to speak without thinking, we will continually stick our foot into our mouths just to come across intelligent by answering quickly.
To break that habit is simple, but not easy. Like most habits, when we sit back and evaluate our actions, it’s easy from the sidelines to see the error of our ways. So to break a habit, or poor conditioning, we need to create a new habit. One called active listening.
1. Active listening is quite simply the act of listening at least twice as much as we talk during a conversation (hence the two ears vs mouth story). Listen with fresh “ears” not eyes. What I mean by that is don’t predetermine what your client, prospect, employee, vendor or even spouse might be saying next. This is what my financial investment client did was predetermine what her prospect what going to say, not what she said.
Active listening also means that you stay in the present and not wander off to the future (what an I going to do after this conversation) or the past (did I turn off the burner at home?), but to stay very focused on what is being said in front of you.
2. Active listening at the beginning of the conversation, it’s important not to say very much, maybe a “I see” or “ah-ha”. But once that you’ve heard enough, the only thing that leaves your lips are questions. I call them clarifying questions. This is when you don’t assume anything. Let me repeat this point, you don’t assume anything and ask questions to clarify what was said to you.
I do a fun exercise in my fun-shops (opposite of work shops) that pose the question to everyone in the room that goes like this, “When I say “dog”, you think ________.” What I love about this word game is that out of a room of 30 people, you may get 28 unique answers to that question illustrating that not everyone thinks just like you and that you need to make room for other opinions and thoughts. So by asking clarifying questions, you get a peek inside the meta programing of this persons mind and get great insight to how to speak with them.
3. Finally, when you’ve done the two parts of active listening and want to take it to the next level, tell a story. Steve Jobs was a master at story telling and as a leader was able to instill greatness within his work teams to achieve new levels of technology. When you’re in deep active listening, you are building great rapport by listening at this level. Your influence is great because they have expressed themselves so well and you’ve been so good at listening by first being silent then asking appropriate questions that now you can influence with integrity and make a suggestion to solve a problem or as I started this story, offer them a service or product by telling them a story about it. If my financial investment coaching client had done this, she would have quickly realized that her prospect was asking to work with her and to work with her now before the money came to her.
So next time that you want to tell to sell, remember, two listening ears are much more powerful than one yapping mouth!
James Connolly is Founder of CEO Chef and author of three team building and leadership development books.