Of all the communication skills, listening is the one in which most of us receive no training, we are the least efficient and yet use the most. Research shows that we spend 80 % of our lives communicating and about half of it listening.
From my observation after having traveled to many countries and meeting people from different cultures, people who are good at listening tend to be better at selling too.
There are many reasons why we don’t listen when people speak to us. In many societies and cultures, children are pushed to do better and excel by using assertiveness. So while, speaking is a powerful means of asserting our will, our views, and authority, listening is too often thought to be a sign of passivity and compliance. When we speak, we feel in control of events or situations, and it gives our ego a boost.
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Let us look at the common barriers to listening.
We talk at between 150 – 200 words a minute, but the brain thinks at a speed of up to 500 words per minute. This surplus capacity gets used by the brain to judge, evaluate, compile responses while listening. The excess capacity of the brain often makes us distracted and bored while listening to the other person. As a sales person, you need to be conscious about this gap and take proactive steps to keep the brain from getting into sleep mode.
Fatigue, Telephone calls, external sound make it difficult for you to concentrate on the message the person speaking to you is trying to convey. Email and instant messenger services are one of the most common distractions that you notice in today’s hyper-connected world, these distractions break your thought process and sharply reduce your ability to listen. As a sales person, make sure that your meetings take place without any distractions so that you can clearly listen to what the customers want to say.
Interpretation & subsequent distortion
We end up listening to what we hear and not what the speaker is speaking. Preconceived ideas and notions from our experience have the ability to distort or color the reception of what’s being said, particularly if it is associated with past failures or bad experiences. For example, if one of your buyers is asking for the additional warranty period, your mind may be clouded with cases where people had returned products just before the warranty period ended, even if it was not justifiable or applicable. The bitter experience at the back of your mind, would not allow you to listen to his logic and reason for asking for an extended warranty period.
Prejudices and biases
Having prejudices and biases can block your ability to listen even before the speaker has said a word; some of the biases that can affect you are race, caste, gender, age clothes and sexual orientation. For example, if a senior citizen is speaking about speed to market and how he still clocks a seventy-hour week, your age-related bias may shut you off from listening to what he is speaking, because in your mind you may have pictured that someone in old age cannot clock long hours. As a sales person, you need to be conscious of your biases and proactively work towards removing them, so that it does not cloud your ability to listen and understand. By being conscious of these barriers, you can work towards reducing their impact and concentrate on what your buyers what to communicate to you.