Fast, effective listening exercises that supercharge your business – because listening’s a crucial part of selling
There’s a lot of chirping needing your attention in business – sales, customer service, staff management, supplier negotiations, meetings, email… oh, social media too…
You’ve learned to navigate the noise and be efficient with your interactions, but somehow, relationships feel superficial and your head is full of worries:
- How can you close more sales?
- How can you convince people you’re the real deal?
- Why does it feel that you and your customers are on different wavelengths?
- How can you be a better listener?
Here’s the thing. Business is about relationships. And the best relationships are full of empathy and rapport, both of which come about through good listening.
Every customer is a strong relationship waiting to be built through listening and understanding.
Studies show that although we spend 45% of our communication time listening, we’re distracted, preoccupied or forgetful for 75% of the time we are listening.
We shouldn’t be leaving good listening skills to chance
We’re poor and inefficient listeners by default, so think of good listening skills as a muscle to be trained for your business toolkit.
You’ll find yourself building and strengthening relationships even when you’re short on time because you subconsciously pick up cues you would have missed before.
You’re not just listening, you’re guiding too
People can be terrible communicators because nerves, distraction, shyness, arrogance, self-absorption, and stress often get in the way. Good business listening means helping people articulate better. You’re not a passive listener, you’re a guide who’s actively using your listening skills to extrapolate meaning.
As you practice developing your listening skills and learn to be a better listener, you’ll get better at building rapport and trust. You start hearing what people mean and you magically know what they want.
You’re about to learn 5 of the strongest techniques to be a better listener. These lessons work on your person-to-person interactions and also on digital communications, both email and social media.
The Skim-Reader Summary
Short on time? Never mind. Here’s a quick overview and an infographic of the five points.
The rest of the article explains how these powerful techniques work. You also get an exercise for each technique showing you how to practice it.
Overview: How to be a better listener:
- Look for examples of good listening in your own life and use them as a framework
- Don’t make assumptions – let people explain themselves fully
- Practice active listening to be sure you understand what people have said
- Recognize and overcome resistance from yourself and others
- Use clean language as a non-confrontational, non-presumptive way to elicit information.
How to be a Better Listener Infographic
1) Be a Better Listener by Seeing How Others Listen
Watching people interact teaches you a lot about listening. It works very well in a group of people because it lets you compare dynamics.
You get a lesson in listening, power-plays, and relationships. You learn to see when ego leads a conversation and if it gets the desired result or not.
One thing you’ll notice is the influence of language. Elizabeth Stokoe, professor of social interaction at Loughborough University observes, “We are pushed and pulled around by language far more than we realise.”
You learn to identify words people respond too and see how a certain part of a sentence directs the conversation. You see relationship dynamics and get thinking about what a person could say to get a better result.
You can people-watch from the comfort of your own home too. Facebook groups are good for this when you’re not in the mood to go out.
A Facebook user asked: I want to send a direct invite from my Facebook page to my 30,000 newsletter subscribers. What is the best way to import their emails into Facebook?
This question received these answers:
- When they join your list, ask them to like your page
- If they haven’t heard from you in a while, ask them to opt-in to your newsletter again and then you can ask them to like your page
- Tell your list to “like us on social” in your emails
These are all excellent answers – but to different questions. In this situation, the questioner replied each time by rephrasing the original question in different ways.
One person replied “I don’t know the answer but try googling “how to invite non-friends to Facebook page”
This response got a much-relieved thank-you from the question-poser. Because although it didn’t solve the problem, it understood what was being asked and suggested a possible next step towards finding a solution.
Listening Skills: Lesson 1
People want to be understood: Look for examples of good listening when you’re on social media and when you’re out and about. As you train your ears to pick out good listening skills in normal day-to-day interactions, you’ll become more attuned to recognizing how and when to implement them yourself.
Resist the temptation to call people out – you’re practicing your own listening skills here, not teaching them.
2) Be a Better Listener by Removing Yourself From the Equation
Your brain is so full of information that when it hears keywords in a conversation, it gets excited and brings all its knowledge to the fore. You’ve gone into “efficiency mode” and start offering up solutions because you think you already know what they’re asking.
Except you don’t know what they’re asking. You’ve missed the crucial elements of their question and you’re pulling out a solution to a question that wasn’t being asked. It’s normal, we’ve all done it.
To be a better listener, it’s more efficient to go in with a blank mind. Slow down, listen to the entire question and then your mind can filter your knowledge against what’s being asked.
Listening Skills: Lesson 2
It’s not about you, it’s about them: When you’re in a conversation, either online or in-person, practice asking “What do you mean?”
A key part of developing your listening skills is making sure you understand what’s being asked. Don’t be in a hurry to answer as soon as the person stops talking, or as soon as you finish reading the question. Catch yourself when you’re making assumptions rather than listening to the entire question.
Also read: The Business of Knowing Your Product
3) Be a Better Listener by Practicing Active Listening
You’ve learned that people want to be understood, it’s one of the basic ways we feel respected.
You lose people when they don’t feel heard and in a business setting, this might mean they never give you another chance.
Active listening means being fully involved with the conversation. You nod, repeat words back, ask for clarification, build rapport by adopting similar body language.
Like all the other lessons here, this listening skill applies to face-to-face conversations, business emails and the business use of social media. You want to establish connection.
When you practice active listening, you develop a sensitivity that makes you better at getting the most out of the conversation:
- Pay full attention: no cutting people off to read a text, no thinking about dinner
- Get out of sales mode: the time to sell is after you’ve listened and understood
- Give them your time: whether it’s a two-minute exchange or an hour-long meeting, turn your body language and mindset over to the conversation
By listening in a whole and active way, you often discover insights and meanings you hadn’t expected in your assumptions at the start of the conversation.
Listening Skills: Lesson 3
People want to have their words mean something to you: Give people positive interactions that they’ll remember about you. Developing good listening skills is a strategy and the way you go about it are the tactics.
If your strategy is to develop good customer relations, your tactics are to become involved in the conversations and emails you get. Don’t skim-listen.
Also read: How to Think Like a Business Owner
4) Be a Better Listener by Overcoming These Two Types of Resistance
Two types of resistance kill a conversation before it’s even begun.
- Resistance from a speaker who can’t communicate
- Resistance from a listener whose inner demons have reared up
Ambiguity, irritation, and anger are the hallmarks of resistance. They throw a conversation off course, leaving both parties frustrated.
Symptoms of Resistance from the Speaker:
- The speaker is vague or unable to verbalize what they want
- They keep repeating the same thing over and over
- Their eyes glaze over or they fidget
- They stop talking even though the issue isn’t resolved
- Their voice or tone changes, becoming angry or quietly giving in
Symptoms of Resistance from the You, the Listener:
- You feel changes in your body – tension, tightness, getting hot or cold
- You have a need to interrupt and change the conversation
- You feel your mood change
Whether it’s you resisting, or they are, your job as a listener is to guide the conversation to help the speaker articulate what they need to say regardless of how you feel about it.
Resistance points to underlying factors that may or may not be important. But if you don’t let the conversation happen, you’ll never know. As soon as we think one of our personal values has been undermined, we take it as an attack on our identity. It’s a self-preservation response that’s not appropriate when you’re trying to have a conversation.
Listening Skills: Lesson 4
Resistance is a conversation starter: When you feel resistance in yourself or others, look at it with curiosity. A nerve has been touched and you want to see how well you can untwist the wires.
In particular, ramp up your concentration and be clear on what’s the speaker is saying. Guide them into articulating their issue. If the resistance is coming from you, take a time-out out: step out for a minute, or take a deep breath and remind yourself that you’re both seeking a common goal.
Practice recognizing resistance as a friendly request for help guiding the conversation into clarity.
The next section tells you the questions to ask when you’re helping people to explain themselves better.
5) Be a Better Listener by Asking Clean Questions
Clean questions start from a blank slate. They assume nothing. They listen.
Imagine you’re a website designer and someone wants “a professional, modern e-commerce website to sell my own fashions.”
This ambiguity isn’t enough to get you started but the customer doesn’t know what they want because they don’t talk in website-language. That’s why they came to you.
Clean language comes from NLP and is a way to get information from the customer quickly and easily. Clean questions guide the speaker to speak with pinpoint clarity.
Asking clean questions means you get to know what ambiguous terms and metaphors mean for you in practical terms.
Core clean language questions:
And is there anything else about ……?
And what kind of …… is that ……?
And where is ……?
And what happens next?
And then what happens?
And what happens just before ……?
And where does/could …… come from?
And that’s …… like what?
Where ‘……’ represents the exact words of the speaker.
So with your website client, you use clean language questions to guide the customer to tell you what they want without any ambiguity:
“And what kind of professional is that professional?”
“And that’s e-commerce like what?
You’re looking to remove the ambiguity from any word that can’t be understood the same way by any two people. You listen to the answers and use clean questions to keep drilling down in a conversational way until you both know exactly what’s being asked and what will be delivered.
These clean questions elicit information in a non-confrontational, non-aggressive way. They encourage active listening by taking you out of the equation and focusing your attention on the speaker.
Listening Skills: Lesson 5
Be a detective: Clean questions are investigative tools and they make you a better listener by turning you into a detective. You’re always looking for meaning. Learn these clean questions and start to use them in your daily life.
Notice how much deeper you connect with people once you start helping them to look for the meaning of their own ambiguity.
Also read: What Does Your Business Promise?
Develop Good Listening Muscles & Enjoy Better Customer Relations
Business needs you to be a multi-skilled person. Listening is just one of the essential skills to master as one of the key components of sales, reputation, and growth.
As a business owner, it’s not enough to hear the voices around you. Tuning in to the nuances of communication let you create strong, meaningful bonds with customers and suppliers.
You become receptive to all the ways they let you know what they’re thinking and you can spot signs of dissatisfaction and change and do something about it before it hits your bottom line.
You’ve learned that listening skills can be developed and you have five powerful exercises that fit easily into your daily life.
Will you practice them daily one at a time? Or list them out to do a little bit every day? It’s totally your choice, and once you get started, it won’t be long before you notice something changing.
A side effect of being a better listener is that you start becoming clearer in your own self-talk.
Let me know the changes you notice in your communications and relationships – leave a comment below or email me: email@example.com
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