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Do You Hear What I'm Saying?


Written for The Burnside News

Anyone who has raised teenagers will recognize what I mean by ‘selective hearing’. They hear, ‘Yes, you can borrow the car…’, but what they don’t hear is ‘…after you take out the trash.’ I think we all suffer from this. The problem may have more serious consequences at work. Imagine using selective hearing if you’re a customer with a critical order. We say: ‘We’ll try to have it here by Friday’. They don’t hear the word ‘try’. Was it their fault for not listening better or ours for not making delivery time clear? Blame is pointless; it’s our responsibility to ensure no misunderstandings occur.

Frontline people are hired because they’re good with people - polite, helpful and caring. Typically, they may also have a strong desire to be liked. This may lead to ‘over-promising’ and the resulting ‘under-delivering’. Here’s what it might sound like: ‘Sounds like you’re in a real spot with customers waiting for these John, let me see if shipping can expedite this and get it to you by Thursday.’ John goes back to the office and says: they say it will definitely be here Thursday. Of course, this was not what was said, but it’s what John wanted to hear and it’s what will keep the heat off of him… at least until Thursday.

The expectation gap created by poor listening and communication skills leads to many of these problems. Listeners come in three varieties. Competitive or combative listeners: they appear to be listening, but are only waiting for a break in the conversation to argue. Their minds are pre-occupied and they aren’t truly listening. Passive listeners may be listening, but because without feedback, we assume they’re not. Finally, active listeners use their words, body language and tonality to assure the speakers that they’re listening with their entire being –asking confirming questions, paraphrasing and feeding back information, clarifying for both themselves and the speaker.

Active listening is a skill that can be acquired through awareness and implementation. The first step is to overcome the desire to set false hopes or unrealistic expectations in order to placate a customer. You are setting yourself up for confrontation later. As Gandhi said, "A 'No' uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a 'Yes' merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble."

©2011 Sandler Training Inc. ( is an international sales, customer service and management training/consulting firm. For a free copy of Why Salespeople Fail and What to Do about It, call Sandler Training at 902-468-0787 or e-mail

Eric Fry

Sandler trainer