Build Your Listening Muscle

We know the importance to our health of building our muscles and working on them every day. Well, building our listening muscle is equally important to our business. Yet this is a muscle that often goes untended.

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We are often so focused on the next step, the next sentence, the next opportunity that we forget to be present and pay attention. In addition, there are so many more influences and stimuli these days that we can feel like we have adult A.D.D. Between our electronic devices, social media, email, and texting, we are bombarded with information and activity. It can be very hard to focus in this environment.

There are a couple of problems with an inability to listen effectively. The first is that we don’t discover the information we need to make relevant decisions or present accurate proposals. This is a huge issue in sales. The sales person is so focused on sharing information about their product or service that they don’t take the time to ask questions and listen to the answers. Because of this, they don’t build a rapport with the prospect or help the prospect feel valued.

People buy from people they like and trust. If they don’t trust you, they won’t buy from you – no matter how fabulous your product or service is.

In addition, they don’t find out enough about the prospect to determine if it’s a good fit for them. Not all prospects are qualified. The only way to find out if the one you’re talking to is a good fit for you and your company is to ask questions and listen to the answers.

This can also be a problem when vetting vendors or referral partners. If you don’t take the time and attention to really get to know them, you could enter into a relationship that is not the best for your company. Bad business relationships can destroy a company. You end up spending money, time and energy unnecessarily – all things that should be spent on good relationships.

John Jantsch talks about different types of listening, the best being “active” and “perceptive.” According to John:

“Perceptive listening is by far the most complex because it requires you to be totally focused, completely mindful and, well, perceptive of what’s really going on.”

I have to say that I think this is probably the hardest kind of listening to learn. It really takes complete attention and tuning out of everything else. Because of that, it is the most effective kind of listening. The other party can feel this kind of listening. When someone feels this kind of listening they also feel valued. They believe the other person is genuinely interested in learning about them and their needs.

They believe you really want to help them solve a problem; they start to trust you.

That genuine interest is the key to a successful business in my opinion. It not only works with prospects, but clients and vendors. Anyone you have a relationship with will notice this level of commitment and attention. They will be more inclined to participate in the relationship and you will come to better decisions and solutions when you are listening closely.

You’ll truly hear what someone is saying and will be able to absorb it. Now you are open to ideas and collaboration. Perfect!

Because ‘perceptive’ listening is more complex, you most likely won’t master it on your first attempt. This is why active listening is so important. Active listening is simply listening to what is being said. When you are actively listening you aren’t thinking about what you are going to say next. You aren’t reading your email on your smartphone while the other person is talking. You are present, attentive, and engaged. You may not be thinking about what the other person’s motivation is. You may not be paying close attention to their body language, but you are paying attention to their words. You are taking notes and responding to what they are saying.

This behavior is a great first step. Active listening can build trust and value with your prospect or employee.

There are so few people actively listening (unfortunately) that this behavior stands out. You can learn a lot at this point. You can respond to their answers and provide them with a solution to their issues. You can empower an employee; you can come to a compromise with a vendor. You can be tremendously effective.

So, how well developed is your listening muscle? Are you actively listening? Have you mastered perceptive listening? If not, start working on exercising that muscle today. Practice tuning out other influences. Engage someone in a conversation and monitor your listening ability. Create a system to help yourself focus during conversations with prospects, clients, employees, and vendors. Your business will be healthier when your listening muscle is strong.

Listen Photo via Shutterstock


Diane Helbig Diane Helbig is a Professional Coach and the president of Seize This Day. Diane is a Contributing Editor on COSE Mindspring, a resource website for small business owners, as well as a member of the Top Sales World Experts Panel at Top Sales World.

8 Reactions
  1. It’s amazing how powerful it is when your fellow employees and customers realize that you’re listening and engaging with them on the merits of their ideas. It happens so infrequently in these easily-distracted days—there I go sounding like an old fart—that it really does carry weight.

    Nice article, Diane.

  2. It’s amazing how reasonable customers can be when they have a problem. They call and their shipment was damaged, and you expect that you will have to do amazing things so they don’t hate you. But if you just listen to the problem and ask how you can help, they are often extremely reasonable and easy to please. Just listen!

  3. They say we have two ears and one mouth because we should listen twice as much as we talk!

    Also, I have found telling customer “you’re important to me” does wonders for smoothing over upset.

  4. Great post and I wholeheartedly agree with Steve’s comment. Listen twice as much as you talk. Strangely awesome things will start to happen.

  5. Taking perspective listening to the next level, I favor collaborative listening. The listener has two roles: to listen well and to help the speaker be clearer and express more.

    Often clients don’t know what they want (that’s what they pay you for, right?) They need your help to identify what they want, don’t want, need or loathe. Simple listening won’t do the trick.

    You have to know how to ask questions that gather information without offending your client. Once you know that you have the chance to make a customer for life. Being listened to is that powerful!

    Listening without effective questioning, however, is like licking the cupcake but not taking a bite. Short-lived and ar less satisfying.

  6. So true! And Dina I couldn’t agree more. The key to a successful sales meeting is asking the right questions and the listening to the answers. Responding to what the prospects says, not what you want to sell them is critical. Too many salespeople ask questions, sort of listen, and the propose their own, self-interested solution. It’s as if they weren’t listening at all. That never works.

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