By Don Sturgill
Most of us don’t know how to listen.
Communications research shows that almost all of us consider our listening skills to be adequate – probably even above average.
Those same studies also reveal the reality: We comprehend about one-fourth of the information presented to us.
Consequently, most of us have a problem that is affecting all our relationships, both personally and professionally, yet it is a handicap we don’t often admit or even perceive.
How IBM’s CEO learned to listen
Sam Palmisano faced a language barrier after being assigned to lead IBM Japan. He found that his listening necessarily centered on one thing only: trying to understand the message the speaker was seeking to convey.
All other motives fell to the wayside. He wasn’t listening to “critique, convince, or object.” Palmisano was listening “solely for comprehension.”
Later, as CEO of IBM, Palmisano would reflect back on that experience and realize it was in Japan that he really learned the value of listening — and that the ability to listen helped to catapult his career.
Would improved listening skills help your company succeed?
Here is an example from my own experience.
As a contributing writer, I was asked to sit in on a special meeting called by one of my clients. The company president delivered a wonderful monologue about messaging, and how important it is for all sectors of a company to maintain a consistent voice.
All fifty-some listeners nodded and agreed.
He then opened the floor to questions, and that is when the conversation effectively stopped.
After several writers from his in-house creative team pointed out that their messaging was being changed at the C-Suite level – that it didn’t matter what they said, it would never reach his desk intact – the president waved them down and refused to hear any further complaints.
Because he failed to listen, nothing changed.
Here are three guidelines for listening more effectively:
- Practice listening solely to understand. Pay close attention to the speaker’s message; don’t worry about how you will respond.
- Save objections and arguments for later. Your first response should consist of requests for clarification only. A corollary to skillful listening is the ability to ask excellent questions.
- Your listening will indicate your respect to the speaker. (An instant boost to the speaker’s appraisal of your attractiveness and intelligence.)
Notes from the front line of sales: Listen to learn
Consider this example from someone whose career is based on the ability to listen:
Debbie White is a salesperson’s salesperson. She hired on to a sales team fresh out of high school, made rookie-of-the-year right off the bat, and has never looked back. I met Debbie at a seminar in Los Angeles, where she was managing a launch for motivational all-star, Les Brown. I loved hearing Les speak, but it was Debbie’s presentation that really piqued my interest. Here is what she said:
In my experience, having been involved in the sales of hundreds of millions of dollars in products and services over the years, the most important trait of every great salesperson, marketer, or leader is the ability to listen.
In every situation – whether with a prospect, a customer or in resolving a problem, we can only communicate and respond effectively by hearing our customer’s true core problems and never approaching the conversation with self-focused agendas.
Debbie then gave an example of how listening can improve the bottom line:
One of my clients sells online luxury vacation rentals in the Rivera Maya. We have seen a 25% increase in revenues, just by my working with the team to show them how to listen.
Every member of the sales staff must make a sincere commitment to really understand the potential customer’s needs. When people feel heard, they can trust you enough to believe the solution your product or service offers will work for their problem.
Before they feel heard, you’re really only talking to yourself.
Someone your business must always hear
In every business, it is crucial for the company to listen to customers.
Many companies approach the Internet backwards. They see social channels, pay-per-click advertising, and the company blog as another opportunity to get their message out.
There’s a better way to approach your customers online, though: View the Internet as an excellent place to listen.
Customers who feel listened to are happy customers. Customers who don’t … aren’t.
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