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    Chapter 1-Listening Until You Really Hear

    Listening makes the difference between passing or failing a test, making or losing a sale, getting or losing a job, motivating or discouraging a team, mending or destroying a relationship. But listening has gotten a bum reputation as a passive state. Not so. Listening is simply the precursor of successful activity.

    Tip 1. Decide That You Want to Listen.

    Many people listen poorly simply because they have no intention of listening well. They’re preoccupied. They’re too busy talking so that they can feel understood. They’re focused on getting what they want done or heard; they have no time to be interrupted by someone talking to them.

    Parents, teachers, and other authority figures confuse us with other poor listening habits and clues. These adults send us the wrong messages about listening with comments like, “Don’t pay any attention to her.” “Just look away and he’ll leave you alone.” “Just pretend you don’t notice and he’ll stop.” “You can’t believe everything you hear.” “Don’t let the bully know it bothers you.” “Forget what she says; she didn’t mean it—she’s just angry.” “He just talks a good fight and blows smoke. Nothing will come of it.” “Tell her what happened. If she doesn’t listen, that’s her problem.” No wonder kids doubt their ears and eyes and can’t decide whether to listen or not.

    Have you ever heard people say that they don’t have time for something—golf, or walkathons, a charity event, or church, or dinner with a friend? Not true. We all have the same 24 hours each day; what they mean is that something isn’t important enough to them to make time for it. The same is true of listening. We will find ourselves being poor listeners until we make up our minds that we want to become good listeners. Listening requires conscious effort and a willing mind. It’s a decision to take an action, not just waiting your turn to talk.

    Listening involves actively processing what the other person says to you: clarifying, asking questions, drawing out additional information, reading between the lines, giving feedback, verifying understanding, analyzing, and drawing conclusions about what you’ve heard.

    What’s the payoff? Listening keeps you informed, up to date, and out of trouble. It increases your impact when you do speak. It gives you a negotiating edge, power, and influence. It makes other people love you. Whether you’re sitting around the conference table in a team meeting or around the dining table for your Thanksgiving meal, make a conscious effort to listen.

    Listening is a gift to yourself and to other people. Give it on purpose—not just when you’re forced to do so.

    Tip 2. Listen With a Clean Slate.

    Good listeners welcome new information and new ideas. Good listening does not require building a wall to screen out ideas and people that have as their purpose to change you or the things you believe. Rather, listening means standing on level ground, listening as though you were a doctor gathering new symptoms from a patient or a pilot in touch with the control tower during a storm. Excellent listeners expect to grant differences, grow their views and values, and gain insights.

    Tip 3. Clean Your Listening Filter.

    There are some announcements that we’ve trained ourselves not to hear. When the TV sports commentator says, “Let’s pause now to let you hear from our sponsors,” you take that as your cue to get something to eat. The digitized voice on the airport tram says, “Please stay clear of the doors; they are about to close.” The mysterious voice on the parking lot of the rental car agency instructs: “Please leave your keys in the car and note your gas mileage. Before leaving your car, please check the car for your personal belongings.” At times you do not hear these routine announcements at all.

    We all have built-in filters to save us time in listening. The trick is to identify the ones that we should keep in place and the ones that we need to clean or remove. Executives may filter any advice given by an outside consultant. Bosses may filter any suggestions given by certain employees. Customers may filter any advertisements from a company that has disappointed them in the past. Some filters save time; others prevent opportunity and understanding. Continually upgrade your list to determine which are which.

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    Tip 4. Recognize That Listening Is Not Waiting Your Turn to Talk.

    Salespeople are often surprised to find that listening is one of the key ingredients of the most successful performers and the downfall of the poor performers. For them, awareness is half the battle. The same can be said of listening by most other professionals. Once you become aware of the benefits of listening and the pitfalls of not listening, you’ve gone a long way toward making improvement. The absence of talk is not the same as listening.

    Tip 5. Avoid “Listening” as a Retreat.

    Those who are afraid to speak their mind on an issue, those who don’t want to risk being wrong, those who are tired, and those who don’t want to “get involved and make connections”—those people often pretend that they’re listening. They may be looking at you, but they’re not listening; they’re just not talking. When you recognize this habit or attitude in yourself, be aware of the difference between that and real listening. Listening takes energy and requires reflective talking; retreating is a mental recess. People you’re “listening” to and encouraging to continue with a slight nudge of a question every so often will not be fooled. They may continue to carry the conversational ball along for you, but afterward they will feel let down, if not resentful.

    Tip 6. Listen With Compassion.

    Some people listen with a superior tone, a critical spirit, or aloofness. In addition to speaking this way, they listen with the same attitude: eyebrows raised, scowling mouth, glaring eyes, folded arms, smirking lips. This behavior does not encourage people to open up and speak their mind. Nor does it free them to think reflectively about themselves and change the way they’re acting or feeling.

    Don’t confuse compassionate listening, however, with simply giving verbal reassurances: “That’s all right. You couldn’t help reacting that way.” “Well, don’t worry about it. Things have a way of working out.” “I know what you mean—bosses are all alike; you can’t trust them to be fair.” These responses are not helpful at all. They tend to brush the listener’s feelings aside and imply that she isn’t a good judge of what’s worth worrying about or working on, what’s a problem and what’s not, or what action to take or not take. Compassionate listening provides something more than glib assurances. It empowers people because it enables them to lower their defenses, share themselves, and find their own solutions in an accepting atmosphere.

    Tip 7. Listen for Feelings as Well as Facts.

    Noted clinical psychologist Carl Rogers believed strongly that a patient’s healing could be greatly speeded up by the simple act of having an analyst who really cared. “If I can listen to what he tells me, if I can understand how it seems to him, if I can sense the emotional flavor which it has for him, then I will be releasing potent forces of change within him.” Far too many people pay an analyst for what friends should and could do if they practiced listening for emotions. Letting the other person know that you understand the emotion behind his words gives him the satisfying sense of really being understood.

    Tip 8. Listen for the Context.

    When we read a news story about a cousin who shoots an uncle over a card game, the incident shocks us because of the enormity of the deed relative to the provocation. When such incidents occur, we can be sure that the immediate act was not the whole of the situation. Words and feelings always have a context. A friend says to you: “There are so many rumors going around in my company that you never know from one day to the next if we’re going to be merged, acquired, or just laid off. I’m not sure whether I’ll be canned or not. So I can’t decide about buying that house. We’d have to do some remodeling, for sure. The mortgage payments will really stretch us, and if Jill decides to switch careers, that’ll affect our cash flow severely. I’m totally puzzled about the next step.” With this comment, you have a broad context that lets you understand the whole situation: the rumors at work, the spouse ‘s job uncertainty, and the necessary remodeling.

    But what if the friend says only: “I can’t decide about buying that house. We’d have to do some remodeling”? You might respond by talking about the pros and cons of the house—the location, the down payment, the interest rate, the condition of the inside. And you’d be way off base about the total meaning. Words do not mean much outside the context of someone’s experience and situation. Probe for the context so that you can listen adequately and respond appropriately.

  • About the Author

    Dianna Booher’s extensive and ongoing research and published works in the field of business communication and productivity serve as the foundation for over 40 books on communication skills training . Dianna has received the highest awards in the professional speaking industry, including induction into the CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame®. She is a member of the prestigious Speakers Roundtable. As a result of Dianna's work among top corporations on communication issues, Executive Excellence magazine has recognized Dianna on its list of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in America. Additionally, Successful Meetings magazine named Dianna on its list of 21 Top Speakers for the 21st Century! Dianna has been interviewed by Good Morning America, CNN, CNBC, USA Today, the Washington Post, New York Newsday, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal Radio, National Public Radio, Bloomberg, Investors Business Daily, Fox Family Network, Reader's Digest, Working Woman, Industry Week, McCall's, Cosmopolitan, Success, Entrepreneur, among other national radio, TV, and newspapers. She holds a master's degree in English from the University of Houston.

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Listening for Sales Results

Do people describe you as a good listener? Every skilled listener is a master at asking the right questions of the right people. The rules for active listening are changing rapidly with the advance of technology. This book is a handy business communication resource to listen effectively, communicate tactfully, and sell confidently in a global economy. This series of quick tips is a credible guide to decisive communication, while also serving as a perfect resource for mobile, social media and digital communications on the go. Learn to ask questions skillfully to your advantage. Excellent listening skills are a key factor in closing big sales, and this resource for salespeople will take the guesswork out of how to really hear your customers.

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