My formative years were spent in two states: New York and New Jersey, both of which are known for their straight talk, mind your business, but keep it business attitudes, so admittedly, the fact that I was STARING at two people while they were deep in conversation is an absolute “no ma’am”! Yes, I was staring as they conversed. I, who have judged staring as a southern trait–believe me, here in the south it’s seen as showing interest not being nosy–picked up the dirty little habit for 15 whole minutes (give or take 3 seconds).
What’s interesting about me staring? Not so much the part about me being a Northerner and finding it rude but the fact that I didn’t understand a word that was being said. The two people were speaking another language…sign language. Their hands moved as swiftly as hummingbirds and the conversation was obviously fluid.
I wasn’t eavesdropping in the traditional sense because I couldn’t translate but I was absolutely engrossed in the way that they listened to one another: There was no digital interruption. While one “spoke” the other “listened”. Now, I don’t need a hearing impairment to say that I know one thing for sure…they are people with one difference, they can’t hear. They aren’t saints so I’m sure arguments occur and I just happened to be watching a normal engagement expressed the way two hearing people would–calm words and shared dialogue. The noticeable behavior was that they actually were hearing the others words. They were being present for the message. Not being able to hear physically, enhanced their listening sense!
This is the greatest disadvantage that we often have in business. Our mouths get in the way of our ability to listen. The other person is speaking and we are waiting to speak instead of listening: When she stops, I’m going to say “blah, blah, blah”…yep, we’re prepping our retort, response, or statement. Even when having polite discourse, people are rarely listening.
Why my big focus on listening? First of all, it’s an important SKILL. It requires developing. Listening for the purpose of doing business (selling), accomplishing a task or understanding others is a skill that takes time and effort. The reason that most people stop listening, I believe, is that they didn’t hear anything that interested or impacted to them and so they stop waiting for it. They ask a question and the answer isn’t heading where they want it to, so they begin prepping their next question or a different way to get the answer they want. What I’ve found is that usually there is another question that can be asked based on what you HEAR, if you are just patient enough to listen.
Another reason that I’m focused on listening is because of the simple message that it conveys to others, when you don’t. You don’t have to roll your eyes and yawn to convey disinterest, as a matter of fact, it’s rarely signs this overt that people pick up on. It’s often the lack of response to what was actually said. For example, I’ve had the unfortunate position of being required to speak to someone who isn’t a cognizant listener. This is how our conversations typically went:
Bob (name changed to protect the ignorant): So, Steph, how are things in your universe?
Me: Well, great actually, I made contact with XYZ company and things…
Bob: (interrupting) I had an interesting experience with XYZ years ago (begins long-winded story that brings little impact and less value to the original question).
I hated conversations with Bob because often it was like verbal jousting and left me feeling rude while he was oblivious or consciously ignoring his own behavior AND because I couldn’t willfully avoid them. There’s nothing worse than being forced to engage with a disinterested person–well, there are some things but doesn’t it sound selfish? Maybe so, or maybe it’s the musings of an experienced professional with a personal history of being a good listener.
Why do I sell well? I’d like to think it’s because people just like me. They do, but that’s a result of being a great listener. Paying attention to what someone says and demonstrating it via good feedback or related responses is a building block to relationship development. A client that says, “I’m busy” will feel heard if you say “I know how busy things get, when is a better time to call you back: as opposed to “Yeah, I’ve had a busy day myself”. You may even ask the client/your boss if there is anything you can take off their plate, although you know there may not be. The simple sign of concern, demonstrating that you heard is sometimes enough. When I’ve done this the payoff has been greater. In the world of risk/reward there is NO RISK TO LISTENING but the reward is immense.
Listening to hear always pays off. Put your active listening skills to use and see how much more developed your professional and personal conversations become!