Talk Less, Listen more, and see sales soar

Hal Becker

Listening is probably one of the most important aspects of any type of negotiation, whether with professionals or with your friends or family.

More than two of every three people (more than 70 percent, actually) think they are good listeners. The truth is quite the opposite: More than 90 percent of us need much improvement!

How good a listener are you?

Here’s a simple exercise to test your listening skills.

* You just met several new people and were briefly introduced. Do you remember all of their names? Any of their names?

* You got lost and stopped for directions, which you did not write down. Did you find your way? Or are you still lost?

* Someone else is talking and is in the middle of a sentence. Do you interrupt? Or do you let the other person get to the end of the sentence?

* You are listening to someone, and a thought pops into your mind. Do you interrupt the sentence with your thought so you won’t forget it? Or do you concentrate on your thought and wait until the other person is done without paying much attention to what is being said?

* You are listening to someone who is speaking v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, and it’s driving you crazy. Do you interrupt and finish the sentence?

I’ll bet you kept saying, “Yeah, I do that . . . and that . . . and that.” Well, you just flunked.

Welcome to the majority. The good news is that you can become a better listener. It just takes practice, which we address shortly. The bad news is that you have to practice for the rest of your life.

Let’s start now. To encourage you, let me say that others will enjoy being around you more because people love a good listener.

About those habits we mentioned in the quiz, such as interrupting or failing to catch someone’s name: All you have to do is be conscious of what you’re doing while you’re doing it. Correct the behavior immediately, and then concentrate on listening.

The more you do this, the better you will become. Of course, this takes time and practice, and by the time you are 80 or so years old, you should have it mastered. (The only problem is that you will have forgotten everything else.)

Favorable attitudes affect listening: You can easily understand how emotions affect negotiation. We naturally prefer people who agree with us. Such a prejudicial attitude causes the listener to selectively hear the positive content of your message.

If the other person is not favorable to you, however, you must consider that he or she probably is not hearing everything you are saying. As a matter of fact, such a person is most probably formulating objections rather than listening closely.

Listening builds trust: Think about the people you trust the most. Chances are, they are close to you and know everything about you because they have listened to you through the years.

Better yet, think of someone you know nothing about but whom you will literally trust with your life. Yep, your doctor. You hope that he is a good listener and can hear what you are saying so that he can make an accurate diagnosis and treat you competently. Without good listening skills, someone in the medical profession can really mess things up for you.

I always hope that my doctor, dentist, attorney and airline pilot (especially when waiting for a runway for takeoff or landing) are diligent about working on their listening skills.

Quit talking: In our discussion of negotiating, I have to remind you that it’s possible to talk yourself out of a successful outcome or sale.

I know people who have done that, but I have never, ever heard of anyone who listened himself out of a successful outcome or sale.

Remember that the most important part of negotiating is to understand what the other party is really telling you. To do this, you have to listen more effectively.

Spare-time thinking: We normally think a great deal faster than we speak. This gap gives us an advantage: time to spare for thinking during a conversation.

One of the most important ways to listen more effectively is to learn to put spare thinking time to good use.

So next time you are in an important negotiation, whether it is in a business situation or even with your spouse about which restaurant to choose, remember to practice your listening skills.

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