Master The Art of Listening

by Jeff Combs


It is my opinion that listening is one of the most underdeveloped skills in sales and entrepreneurship. When I say listening, I mean really listening. It is a skill that I have taught myself in the last 13 years. Most people in America are what I call average listeners. They hear most of what people are saying or they sort through the fluff. The master prospectors, however, teach themselves to hear at a different level. They hear what people are really telling them. I teach that 20% of your time in conversation should be spent asking and answering questions; the other 80% should be spent listening to what the other person is saying and not saying. You can learn more by listening than you ever can by talking. "Talk and you lose, but listen and you learn" is a saying I coined recently.

Through working with thousands of marketers in the past several years I have witnessed many good people doing most of the fundamentals pretty well. Most people do a lot of what I call "telling and selling," synonymous with begging and convincing. These people tell all about their great product and opportunity. Their prospects feel like they are being sold and the message is sent - they have to do the same thing also. The prospects and customers get bored and confused.

In a period of silence I see most people break the code of "the first one who speaks loses." The salesperson can't stand it and jumps in inappropriately with a comment instead of waiting for the prospect to talk. They should have been asking questions, listening and determining the prospects problems, desires, and interests. I went through this phase as well. I used to believe that "I could sell anything to anyone; Ice to an Eskimo", or I had "the gift of gab," and all the old sales clichés and adages I had been taught. Are you guilty of this? Almost all of the people I have worked with start out this way. I have learned that by asking and then listening, your prospects will tell you what you are supposed to do. They let you know if they are curious or serious, and if they are suspects or prospects. This usually happens in the first thirty seconds.

Listening begins by learning how to read people by the energy they are emitting. Do they come across as excited and enthusiastic or do they sound lifeless and ready to go to sleep? Are they aggressive from the first words out of their mouth? Are you able to sense their negative or skeptical body language? I can usually size all of these qualities and traits up in the first fifteen to thirty seconds. The fatal mistake average prospectors make is they assume everybody "needs" their product, and they assume they know what the customer wants. People get frustrated when you talk too much.

I have learned that effective listening provides valuable information and assists me to build relationships with my clients. People love to feel listened to! Listening makes people feel special! Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation and the person you are talking to continually interrupts you? Doesn't this annoy you? This usually stems from someone proving they have to be right or get the final word in. Are you guilty of this? Great listeners who become great prospectors learn that the "less they talk, the more they make", and they also learn "how to say less to more people." Most people don't really have anyone in their lives who really listens to them without interrupting or judging them. The point was well expressed by Dr. Elton Mayo, who said "One friend, one person who is truly understanding, who takes the trouble to listen to us as we consider our problems, can change our whole outlook on the world."

Listening is attention, a stroke, a hug, a kind word. When you listen non-judgmentally and non-critically, you sell yourself as worthy of respect and affection. This frees your customers to think, and to like, respect, and trust you. You become the leader they are looking for. A level of trust begins more easily when you are listening. The prospect relaxes and doesn't feel like he/she is being sold, and begins to share.

Listening not only allows you to receive valuable information, but is crucial to establishing a close and personal friendship. Think how valuable you will become with your prospects if you are the only person in their lives who listens! Listening is the art of getting meaning from any situation. "Really listening" builds self-esteem in the speaker, customer, or prospect. It builds trust. It makes the prospect feel heard, understood, liked, respected, appreciated, and assisted. It also retrieves and processes valuable information and this information truly can be used as power. If you don't listen well you miss selling and closing opportunities, relationship-building opportunities, and specific buying signals.

Listening is what I call the better half of conversation. When we use the term "conversation", speaking is usually what comes to mind first. However, speaking is only part of a conversation and usually not the biggest part. In the end, what makes the difference is what is heard, accepted, and internalized, not just what is spoken.

I have learned a whole new awareness, distinction and insight, and I have learned the process of becoming a master listener. This is a process of creatively and actively absorbing what people say. Learning to manage your listening, and really hearing what people are telling you allows you to unleash your own speaking abilities. When you treat listening with the same care and concern you put into speaking, then your conversations will have the influence and effect you desire.

Listening is truly an internal process and this skill is rarely taught. It is an art that takes its own attention to detail. You have to pay particular attention to what is being said, not what you think you hear. Listening is often overlooked in leadership training, even though it may be the most important leadership skill. Mastering the art of listening will make a big difference in your life.

As an exercise, I challenge you to spend one whole day in this next week focusing on what you hear and what new information you've learned that you may have taken for granted. Teach yourself to pause after someone finishes speaking a sentence and wait two or three seconds before responding. This may challenge you. Average people jump in right away at the back end of someone else's sentence because they feel they have to be heard. They end up missing half of the spoken sentence because they are consumed with thinking about what to say instead of listening. Start to catch yourself interrupting people or your prospects. Be humble enough to apologize and to let the person finish. You'll know you are improving when you start to catch yourself and you start making improvements.


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