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Are You Really Listening?


I speak to many salespeople every week and one of my questions always is, “How do you find out what your client needs?”

The answer I often hear is, “By listening. I’m a good listener.”

What salespeople often don’t understand is that listening is a two-part exercise, neither of which is passive. The first part of the exercise is planning and asking a variety of questions that will get your prospect thinking about his or her needs. Buyers are busy people and, contrary to our perceptions, don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how our products or services might help them. They need help getting started so we have to ask the questions that will provoke thought and uncover need.

The second part is listening. Asking your prospect all the correct questions is wasted if you don’t hear what he or she says, either in words or more subtly in tones or partial hints. Being a good listener requires more than just keeping quiet while the other person is talking. Do you ever find yourself thinking about your next question while the prospect is answering your last one? Do you hear everything that is being said? Do you understand it completely?

Here are some tips for becoming a more effective listener.

FOCUS on the basic message

Try to pinpoint the main ideas the person is expressing. Ask yourself what the speaker is trying to say. If you’re not sure, ask them. “Bill, I believe what I heard is…Am I on track?”

UNDERSTAND what is being said

Keep asking yourself if you understand what is being said. If you don’t, ask for clarification – and keep asking until you are sure you fully understand. “Bill, I’m not sure I understand how this relates to that, can you help me?” If you don’t understand what is being said, your mind is more likely to wander and your listening effectiveness diminishes.


Don’t let trivial things like the speaker’s appearance or random noises divert your attention from what he or she is saying. Listen to the speaker’s whole sentence. Listen not only for content, but context. Anytime you catch yourself being distracted by something that draws your attention away from the speaker’s words, make a conscious effort to refocus.

Listen with your “GUT”

The speaker’s tone and body language will impart meaning. Body language accounts for 55 percent of communication and tonality 38 percent. Words are only 7 percent of the process. These subtle clues are quickly picked up by the unconscious mind and leave us with a particular feeling about the speaker. When you are left with a “feeling” about someone after a conversation – whether they are sincere, are hiding something or can’t be trusted, for example – it is a sign that your unconscious mind has put two and two together and come up with an impression.


Stay involved in the conversation to keep your attention focused on what is being said and offer comments. If the situation permits, offer your own perspective. Ask a question or relate a relevant story that reinforces what the person is saying or represents a different point of view. Ask yourself if what the client is communicating relates to other situations or experiences. Third-party stories are an excellent way to confirm with the prospect that you’ve got it right.

In summary, LISTEN PROACTIVELY. There is more to listening than just passively hearing the words someone is speaking. Remember, neither questioning nor listening is a passive activity for a salesperson.

Cal Thomas