Listening may well be the single most important ingredient for effective communication. God gave us two ears so we catch everything about and around us, and challenged us to turn the hearing talent into a skill called listening.

Hearing is the natural response of our ears to sound. Listening is using our ears and our mind to pay attention to what the person in front of us is saying.

If you are a professional network marketer and an effective communicator, you listen to your prospect. By listening—really listening—you invest yourself in the concerns and needs of your prospect. In an increasingly high-tech world, people respond positively to professionals who show them that they care. One great way to do that is to listen.

We have all experienced occasions when we wished we had listened more closely to what was being said. Good listening usually requires self-discipline, and sometimes it requires self-examination, too.

If you experience difficulty listening to what others say, here are some factors that may be causing the problem:

Prejudice. You may conclude, either before or during the other person's remarks, that they have nothing significant to say. The reasons for such prejudice may include the speaker's appearance, age, actions, voice, race, religion, and nationality. All of us carry around petty biases. It's easy to say that we should get rid of them, but prejudices are emotional, not rational, and they can be insidious.

It's best to overcome our prejudices, but while we're overcoming them we can learn to override them when our best interests are involved. You do this by taking charge of your thoughts. Force yourself to seek out the value in what is being said.

When you're lost and asking for directions, you don't let your attention stray because the person giving directions is wearing overalls instead of a business suit. You listen for the information you need to get to your destination. When you're inclined to tune out a speaker because of some prejudice, remind yourself of the purpose of the conversation. Keep that purpose in mind, and listen for the words that bear on that purpose.

Jumping to conclusions. You may decide that what the speaker is saying is too difficult, too trite, too boring, or otherwise unsuited to your needs. Therefore, you feign attentiveness while your mind is elsewhere.

When you encounter this situation, bring your mind back to the here and now. Accept the challenge of drawing from the speaker some ideas and information that will be valuable to you personally.

If the message is too trite or too boring, use questions to probe for more interesting and stimulating material. If the information is too difficult, ask the speaker to simplify. Just say, "You're a pro at this, and I'm not. Give it to me in layman's terms." Then don't be afraid to ask questions for clarification. The speaker will be flattered by your interest and eager to help you understand.

Assumption. You may assume that you already know what the other person is going to say, so your attention drifts elsewhere. As a result, you miss any new information they may give. When you find yourself thinking this way, make it a game to look for something new to take away from the conversation.

Inattention. If you're like most people, you speak about 125 words per minute, but you can think at more than 400 words per minute. As a result, you may use the "spare time" to think of what you're going to say next. In the process, you may miss out on much of what the speaker is saying.

The remedy is to use the spare time to evaluate and interpret what the speaker is saying. You can frame your own response when it comes your turn to speak.

Selective listening. You may sometimes hear only what you want to hear. Once again, the solution is to evaluate and interpret.

Look for information and ideas that challenge your own ideas. Compare them with what you know and what you feel. Think about how you might deal with this information or these ideas. Should you reconsider your own position? Should you devise new strategies in light of the information?

Excessive talking. If you insist on monopolizing the conversation, you're not going to hear very much. Be conscious of the amount of time you spend talking, and be alert for signs that your listener has something to say. Be willing to yield the floor at reasonable intervals.

Lack of empathy. Good listeners try to see things from the speaker's perspective. If you listen strictly from your own perspective, you may miss out on the relevance of what is being said. The other person's vantage point is an important part of the message.

Fear. When you suspect that what is about to be said will reflect unfavorably upon you, you may react with fear. Many people will stop listening in this situation and find ways to start arguments, or use some other means of escape.

In addition to listening, effective communicators also learn to look for signals or subtle messages that indicate it's time to move into a new phase of the presentation. They observe the signs of confusion that say, "Tell me more." They watch the facial expressions which indicate distraction or disinterest.

Professional network marketers realize that the key to communicating successfully with prospects is to get completely involved with them and their needs and concerns. They tune into prospects and customers, talk about what each one is interested in, listen to the concerns expressed, and watch all reactions and movements.

Make a conscious effort to listen and watch more intently, and notice how your understanding of what is happening around you evolves. You will not only improve your business communication skills but also discover a renewed sense of clarity in all that you do.

NIDO QUBEIN is an international speaker and
accomplished author on sales, communication,
and leadership. He is president of High Point
University and chairman of Great Harvest
Bread Company with 220 stores in forty-three states.