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Become Known As A Good Listener

Empathetic listening is foundational to effective sales and leadership.iStock_000000650824Large

Listening is a foundational skill.   It is a skill developed and practiced by an effective leader as well as by an effective sales person.  Are you a good listener?  Really?  If you asked anyone this question, I’m pretty sure that the answer you would get is “yes”.   But would the other party to your conversation agree with you?  Would the other party feel understood?  Are you listening in order to find your opportunity to speak or are you listening with the intent to just understand the speaker?   Listening to understand rather than to have your opportunity to speak is a muscle that takes conscious effort to develop and strengthen.

Empathetic listening is the 5th Habit cited by Stephen R. Covey is his acclaimed book  “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”.  Seek first to understand, then to be understood. (1) This means to listen with the intent to understand the speaker’s frame of reference.   You see the circumstances through the eyes of the other.  You are not projecting your own history, experience, thoughts or motives.   You are not listening selectively in order to interrupt, reply, control or manipulate.   Rather, you listen for feeling, for behavior.   You listen without a roadmap directing you where to take the conversation.   You listen to understand the unsatisfied need because this is what motivates.

You will not truly understand the speaker if you listen from your own frame of reference.  You can recognize this type of listening from your response.  Are you listening in order to evaluate – i.e. to agree or disagree?  Or, are you listening to advise – i.e. to give advice based on your background and experience?  Or, are you listening to interpret – i.e. to figure someone out from your own motives and behavior?  If you answered yes to any these questions, you may be listening, but you are not practicing empathic listening.  You are not truly listening to understand.

So, practice listening without an agenda, without making comparisons to your background or frame of reference.  Listen for the facts as well as the feelings, and emotions.  Listen and learn how the speaker’s view of the facts, the circumstances, the world, differs from you own.  No two people interpret the same set of facts in precisely the same way.

Effective sales people know that understanding the customer first is key to making a connection and ultimately a sale.  In his book, “Creating Sales Velocity”, Matthew Ferry writes about the importance of focusing on customers needs. (2) The potential customer doesn’t care about the salesperson or what the salesperson wants.  The customer cares only about their needs, wants and desires.   Ferry writes about the importance of making a shift in mindset from making a sale to making a contribution.   “Ask yourself questions that change your point of view, such as:  a) What does the client need, want, or desire?  b) Do I have a solution that’s right for them at this time?  c) Will my produce or service make a difference for this person? d) How can I help? e) What can I do to assist this person in getting what they want?”

Developing true listening and empathy is also foundational to leadership.   In his article written for the Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goldman cites empathy as one of the 5 emotional intelligence skills that distinguishes great leaders from merely good leaders.   An empathetic leader exhibits the ability to understand the emotional make-up of other people and is skillful in treating people according to their emotional reactions.  Empathetic leaders demonstrate expertise in building and retaining talent and in serving clients and customers. (3)

Coaching is particularly effective in developing the muscle of empathetic listening.  A coach can point out patterns and habits of reflective rather than empathetic listening, can role play to practice better responses, and can develop exercises to reinforce new habits.

To get started today, call me for a free consultation.  Take the first step toward building the muscle of empathetic listening.

(1)  Covey, Stephen R. (2003) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. N.Y, N.Y. Free Press.

(2)  Ferry, Matthew. (2005). Creating Sales Velocity.

(3)  Goleman, Daniel. (2011). What Makes a Leader? HBR’s 10 Must Reads: On Leadership. Boston. MA. Harvard Business Review Press.


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