by Randy Stertmeyer, COO, Communicators International, Inc
If you are in business, and especially if you are in sales, it is always a good idea to “brush up” on your listening skills. And a big part of listening is to “hush up.”
I’ve heard it said, we have two ears and one mouth, and a wise man uses them proportionately.
Anyone who has taken a sales course has learned that there are two kinds of questions; closed-end questions which usually require a short, often one word, answer like “yes” or “no”; and open-end questions, which require long, descriptive answers. We learn much more from the later. But to really learn from them, you need to shut up and listen.
Listening is an acquired art. We call our company Communicators International. We have learned that good communication springs more from when and how to listen than it does from how we use words.
It is generally agreed that the concept of listening as an art, was born in a seminar given in 1974 by Eric Fromm, a world-renowned social psychologist. In speaking to a group of American students in Switzerland he related “the art” to his success as a psychoanalyst.
The best short primer on listening effectively I’ve seen comes from psycho-spiritual writer Aletheia Luna. She offers the following steps:
- Make Eye Contact. (Obvious, but frequently forgotten. If you don’t look at the person while they’re speaking, you give them the impression that you don’t care).
- Don’t Interrupt. (Let the person speak uninterrupted. Allow the person to say everything they need to say. The goal is to shine the spotlight on them, not you).
- Practice “Active Listening”. (Clear your mind of your needs and of your mission, to assure that you fully understand what you are hearing).
- Show You Understand. (Provide positive reinforcement to show that you understand. A simple nod or a quiet verbal response such as “yes”, “yeah”, “ah”, or “okay” will demonstrate interest and comprehension without interruption).
- Listen Without Judgment. (To effectively master the art of listening it’s extremely important to withhold any negative evaluations or judgments. If you understand your business, your needs and goals aren’t going anywhere. Once you fully hear the other person’s thoughts you will have a better roadmap for making your case).
- Listen To Non-Verbal Communication. (About 60 – 75% of our communication is non-verbal. Observing “body language” is a critical part of listening).
- Create A Suitable Environment. (It is impossible to listen to another person when your phone or theirs is buzzing. Remove all distractions and find a quiet place to sit down and listen).
It is also critical in today’s hi-tech world to apply these same principles to the many forms of communication beyond face-to-face verbal encounters. Emails and text have replaced a great deal of the interpersonal dialog we used to see in business.
It makes it much easier to hide; to avoid unwanted discourse. Without body language available as a tool, we must learn to read between the lines. As with face-to-face meetings, we must slow down and fully digest the written exchanges we have every day. This means reading more than once and analyzing in the context of the person and situation involved.
The tendency with emails and texts is to rip off a response and move on. These quick replies are often visceral and reactive. Wrong!!! Slow down. Think. Yes, time is precious, but being reactionary is very dangerous.
So brush up on your listening skills. I am reminded of an old Four Seasons song that was on the “B” side of their big hit Rag Doll in 1964. The first two lines of the chorus say it all:
Silence is golden
But my eyes still see
The next time you are in an important meeting or on a critical sales call, give it a try… just hush up and listen.