Stephen Covey, famous business man, educator, and author, claimed in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that communication is the most important skill in life. We all spend years learning how to read, write, and speak in order to communicate with the rest of the world and to make sure we are heard. In other words, we have been taught our whole lives to make our audience understand us first.
In doing so, however, we often only pretend we are listening to others, completely ignore them, or only focus on words that confirm what we’ve just said. While we think we’re masters at communicating, we’ve actually missed half of the puzzle: listening. If we want to have effective conversations, we should instead seek to understand before being understood. In order to understand each other, we have to actively listen.
Benefits of Active Listening in Sales
When you actively listen to a client or lead, you are showing them that they are important to you. When you give them your full attention and focus, in return they will open up to you--instead of being defensive, contradictory, or withdrawing from the conversation entirely. Leads will take your response more seriously; they know that you’ve actively listened to them and trust that you’ve taken their words into account.
Best of all, active listening prevents misunderstanding. When you’ve actually listened to what your lead has to say, you have a better idea of what they want out of the conversation, whether that be a sale right now, or an ongoing relationship that could lead to future sales.
How to Actively Listen
1. Work on Your Body Language
When you actively listen, you should face the speaker and maintain eye contact. That means no playing with your phone, looking at your watch, or fiddling with paperwork. This doesn’t mean you can’t relax, however; you should be at ease, in order to make the speaker feel relaxed, too. Keep your posture open and inviting, which might mean leaning back slightly and unlocking your body from any tense, fixed positions. Your main goal is to feel present, attentive, and ready to serve.
2. Show the Speaker that You Are Engaged
This means nodding, occasional “Mhms,” and parroting the speaker’s language when it’s time for you to reply to show that you understood what they said. This does not mean interrupting or finishing the speaker’s sentences for them. It’s tempting to grab sentences when you think you know what the speaker is going to say next, but if you get caught up in what’s coming, you’ll stop listening to what the speaker is saying now.
3. Ask Questions
If you’re not sure of something, wait for the speaker to pause, and then ask them questions to clarify what they’ve said. This will not only give you more information, but the speaker will feel like you’re truly engaged and listening. It will also help clarify any nonverbal cues you’ve been receiving.
It’s important not to derail the conversation with your questions, however. If the speaker is on one track, your question should widen or deepen the scope of the subject, not change it completely. For example, if I’m telling you about a business process that involves a company you’re familiar with, don’t ask me if I know so-and-so at the company while we’re still getting through the nitty-gritty of our conversation. Fun, chatty comments can come at the end, after business talk has concluded.
In addition to using the same language as the speaker in your replies, you should do your best to summarize what they’ve said to make sure that you got the point, and to make your client feel heard. This should happen during the conversation and at its conclusion. The summaries don’t have to be long; they can be as simple as, “It sounds like your company is happy with X, but would be interested in Y in the next few months, so I will reach out to you via email in June.” Summaries will help you stay on the same page before and after the conversation is over.
Interested in more articles about communicating at the workplace? Check out these posts on our blog:
- Effective Communication at Work
- How to Make Sure People Actually Read Your Emails
- 5 Simple Tips For Better Communication in Sales