Stephen R. Covey

Stephen R. Covey

For a long time, salespeople have been continually reminded that we have two ears and one mouth, and should use them in those proportions, listening twice as much as we speak. Who knew, though, how literally true, and directly impactful, that advice was? 

A study published by RainToday found that 74% of 200 purchasers surveyed at companies nationwide said they would be "much more likely" to buy from a salesperson if the seller would simply listen to the prospect.

Imagine that. Simply by listening, we can raise the odds that almost three quarters of prospects would be more likely to buy. Listening, though, isn't the same as hearing. Listening is an activity; hearing is an outcome. There are a number of barriers to effective listening, and hearing:

  • Personal bias can take many forms, and can affect how well we listen and how we perceive what the speaker is saying. Anger can also distort the message. Put aside bias and anger. Be willing to listen to new ideas. Make eye contact, nod your head or smile to show interest. Even if you don't agree with the message, show acceptance to let the speaker know that you received it.

  • Environmental factors such as noise, temperature and uncomfortable seating can cause us to to focus on other factors beside what the speaker is saying. It's hard to focus attention when distracted by outside forces.

  • Short attention span. Try taking notes, or use a cue to help you remember what you were going to say. If your attention wanders, concentrate on the speaker and rehearse your answer to keep your mind on the task at hand. Ask clarifying questions to remain involved in the conversation.

  • Rehearsing a response prematurely, i.e., before the speaker has delivered her whole message, may cause us to miss parts of the message. Or, anticipating our turn to speak, we spend time mentally or physically reviewing notes, losing concentration. We're listening with the goal of responding rather than the goal of hearing and understanding.

  • Daydreaming. We receive and process information faster than a speaker can deliver it. Most of us speak at a rate of 125-175 words per minute, but we can process between 400 and 800 wpm, which gives us spare time to think or daydream if we don't concentrate on the message. This gap makes it impossible for us to give a message our undivided attention. However, we can offset this to a degree by occupying our minds with thoughts related to the central message, e.g., repeating, rephrasing or reorganizing, all of which reinforce the central message.

  • Hot words. We all have certain trigger words that we react to. If a speaker uses one, we may concentrate more on the word or its implications than what the speaker is saying.

  • Filtering occurs when we're obligated to listen to a message in which we have little interest. We tend to get an overview of what's coming, then tune out the rest of the message.

Like many valuable skills, listening well, i.e., hearing, is not natural. It takes intentionality and dedication to work consistently at it and to become, over time, one of the best listeners. As in every aspect of success, the best decide to become the best, and they put in the time and effort it takes to gradually develop the skills that take them to the top.

Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work. - H.L. Hunt

If you decide that you want to be a good enough listener that three-quarters of prospects are more willing to buy, what are you willing to give up to get that? Are you willing to work at it? If so, get to it.

Mike O'Horo

Do you feel like you waste a lot of time at networking events relative to what you get out of them? Stay tuned. Download our free eBook, "Why Networking Doesn't Work for Lawyers: How to Generate New Clients with Ease Using a 'Hunting' Strategy."