Listening to Understand

Peady’s Selling Engagement

I came across this fantastic saying the other day “the biggest communication problem is we don’t listen to understand, we listen to reply”. And isn’t that what so many salespeople do? They spend too much time working out to what to say next.

Welcome to this week’s post on sales and selling success. 

Salespeople who don’t really listen miss opportunities. Opportunities to build rapport, uncover needs or challenges and understand their prospect’s business.
Listening can be difficult, it shouldn’t be, but it is. Too often, salespeople are waiting for their turn to talk or thinking about what to say next. 

Active listening

Active listening is a skill and like all sales skills can be learnt and mastered via regular practice. Originally taught as part of his leadership program the “Gordon Model” Dr Thomas Gordon saw it as an essential tool for success.

Basically, active listening is fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively ‘hearing’ what the other person is saying.

Non-verbal and verbal

Active listening is non-verbal and verbal – people who are listening are more likely to display at least some of these signs and remember most effective communication is non-verbal.

Small smiles (where appropriate) and head nods can be used to show that you are paying attention to what is being said.
It’s normal and encouraging to look at the speaker – gauge how much eye contact is appropriate for any given situation.  

Posture is a powerful part of any interaction – lean slightly forward or include a slight slant of the head or resting the head on one hand.

Reflection and mirroring of any facial expressions used by the speaker can be a sign of attentive listening.  

Positive comments such as ‘good’, ‘yes’ or ‘I understand’ can be useful in assuring the speaker of your attention.

Remembering key points or note taking help to reinforce that the message is received and understood. 

Asking relevant questions and making statements that build or help to clarify what is being said helps to reinforce the conversation.

Reflecting or paraphrasing what the speaker has said in order to show comprehension is a powerful skill when supported by a request for clarification.

Finally, a quick summary of the conversation can gain clarity or clear up any potential misunderstandings so that the subject or conversation can be finalised.

The power of silence

Once you have listened and understood what the other person is saying don’t underestimate the power of a short silence before responding. That ‘heart beat’ or two can make all the difference, particularly if the conversation is a difficult one. It gives the other person an indication that you are thinking about and processing what they said.

Active listening is an important skill to develop relationships, build trust, and identify innovative solutions. It comes naturally to many people but for others requires regular practice and it can sometimes slip from our mind if we’re not intentional about using it.

Until next week, good listening!


About the author 

Stephen Pead is a media industry veteran of 30 years with significant experience in direct sales, sales management and general management. He is based in Sydney and specialises in helping SME’s market their businesses more effectively and providing training for salespeople and sales managers.

He can be contacted at [email protected]