The Power of listening

 A need that often goes unmet is the need to be listened to. What if we listened more? What if when someone made a statement we readily and consistently invited them to elaborate? What would happen if we generously gave the gift of being listened to and provided the opportunity for others to experience being fully understood? My answer: we’d have increased power to connect and build collaborative relationships with others. I believe we start by encouraging people to talk with active listening and short and simple questions or brief statements and then pausing to provide a space for them to answer.

Examples of short open-ended questions:

  • What do you mean?
  • What makes you say that?
  • How does that make you feel?
  • How come?
  • How so?

Of course, there many business applications for these short questions. But, most of my clients, who are bright and successful professionals, often need help using them. Asking open-ended questions doesn't come naturally to them. (My observation is it doesn’t come naturally to most people.) Their inclination is to put together closed-ended questions and long questions; often double or triple questions back-to-back instead of one simple open-ended question.  

Using a single short and nondescript question seems over simplistic. But for one of my clients, who is a consultative salesperson, the best way for him to improve his results was to start asking short open-ended questions and let his prospects talk. (As a point of clarification an open-ended question is one you can’t answer with a quick yes or no).

Open-ended questions are the tools of an expert communicator, good therapist or consultative sales person. They help to elicit feelings, facts, motivations, needs and wants. They help us know people and their situations in a deeper, richer and fuller level and satisfy their need to be heard. But not just that–they help salespeople get the information they need to see how their product or service supports and satisfies their prospect’s needs.  

I’m a big proponent of the above list of questions and I typically share a list like it with anyone who is struggling in sales, service or relationship management and is wanting to have better relationships with clients and prospects.

Normally when we hear someone make a statement we respond based on an assumption of what they actually meant. When you follow the discipline of inviting people to elaborate and clarify what they mean, it helps to transform your conversations from transactional to collaborative.

One of Dale Carnegie's core principles was "Let the other person do a great deal of the talking." Practice "handing people the floor", letting them talk and allowing them to share what's going on in their lives. When I did this, one of my clients spoke for about 60 minutes during a 63 minute conversation. As a result of letting him speak, he thought I was a great conversationalist and I hardly said anything!  It was our first real conversation and I accomplished a great deal by listening. I got into his world, better understood his past and how he wants me to treat him.

Many professionals aspire to become great public speakers, but I think it could be said that one of the keys to success in business is for us to become great listeners.

Stephen Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” I believe you can improve your results and your relationships by listening for understanding first instead of just doing so to reply.  That’s the power of listening.