What Aren’t You Hearing? 3 Steps to Better Listening

Remember when you were back in grade school and you played the message game with your classmates.  You know the one.  The teacher whispered a message into the ear of little Janie at the beginning of the first row.  Janie whispers it to Bobby, who’s sitting behing her.  Bobby tells Laura, and so on, and so on, until the message worked its way to the other side of the room.  Finally the class derelict, Petey, has to stand up and tell the class the message.  When he confidently says, “Godzilla wears dentures so that he won’t bite his toenails after a walk through the muddy forest,” the class howls with laughter.  You do too, because you were in the middle of the classroom, and you knew damn well that the message actually dealt with King Kong’s shoes that were so tight that he got bunions from them.  Stupid Petey.  Then the teacher writes the original message that she gave Janie on the blackboard, and suddenly you didn’t feel so superior to that little delinquent Petey anymore.

What happened?  Well, a little slice of human nature came into play that I’ll call preferential listening.  Each student heard what he or she thought was important in the message and added a little personal spice to the story to boot.  Reality was how each kid colored it.  Do you think this can’t occur in business?  It happens every day, people.  Dick’s boss tells him, “I want zero defects going through that production line today, Dick, or heads will roll.”  Dick stops the line every hour to inspect parts, making sure that he’s got it right.  Like a puppy expecting a liva-snap, Dick goes into the big guy’s office because the line ran with no faulty product going out the door.  Instead, he gets the rolled up newspaper across the snout because he missed his production numbers. 

Here’s the problem.  We all filter every input that our senses take in through the landscape of our life, little experiences that have shaped our personal histories over the years.  It’s not all the fault of the person listening though, the dude barking out the message shoulders some of the blame.  People talk in ambiguities, use vague language, and often emphasize exactly the opposite of what they really want (RE:  Dick’s boss).  The listener thinks he has it, but in reality doesn’t have a clue.  Stupid listener.  In business, this will short circuit productivity in a major way.

But alas, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.  You don’t have to be like Petey or Dick.  You just need to learn to listen actively instead of passively so that you hear the message being delivered, not just the one that ricochets off your eardrums.  You can be completely effective, if you just apply three little rules for effective, active listening:  use your eyes and ears, re-state, and clarify.

Use Your Eyes and Ears

Have you ever heard the study that claims that human beings only receive 9% of verbal communication by way of the words actually stated. That’s 91% of verbal communication that revolve around things other than the spoken word!I find that a little hard to believe, but it’s now part of the Listening Skills folklore, so let’s accept it.  The rest of the message comes to us through less obvious means—body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, inflection, and cadence of speech. 

You need to listen with your eyes and watch the person speaking to you.  Does her face show a perturbed expression?  Does she look anxious?  What about the body language?  Hands crossed in front usually indicates resistance, maybe even anger.  Hands open and extended toward you indicate, you’ve  got it, a more receptive frame of mind.  Leaning toward you usually points to seriousness or concern.  Pacing, fidgeting, or fumbling about with one’s fingers demonstrates nervousness.  An expectant father comes to mind.  Guess what yawning means?  

How about voice volume and inflection?  Even K-9s know that the louder the message, the more the speaker wants to be heard—“important point here, listen up.”  Messages can also change with inflection.  Zig Zigglar’s Secrets of Closing the Sale uses the example, “I did not say he stole the money.”  Go ahead and read that sentence to yourself several times, emphasizing different words each time, and you’ll get the point.  Cadence, rate, pitch all tell you things.  Faster can mean excitement.  It might also indicate that this person is in a hurry and wants to spit it all out.  Slower means either deep thought, extra importance, or maybe utter apathy.

The point is, you need to use your eyes and ears to pick up extra information not contained in the words spoken, and then use your brain to decipher what these clues mean in the context of the discussion.

Re-State

Here’s one from my Selling Solutions program and sales 101.  No matter how smart you think you are, you still might miss something in any message.  If what the person you’re speaking with is telling you is important, stop her every now and again and re-state your version of what she said.  Paraphrase her ideas right back to her to make sure you got it right.  Use a phrase like, “OK.  What I hear you saying is…” and then just tell her what you heard.  This does two things:  for starters, if you’ve nailed the message, you just confirmed it; if not, the speaker has the opportunity to further explain the concept until you have it correct.  Keep re-cycling until you get affirmation from her that you really understand the important points.

Clarify

Here’s where you ask the question, “How do you mean?” when you don’t understand or want more information.  She’ll elaborate.  There are other techniques too that accomplish the same result.  Put your best confused look on your face, tilt your head to the side, and don’t say a word.  Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the speaker will see that you’re still in the dark and further refine the point.  You can also use the psychologist approach.  Re-state the last two words that the person doing the talking just said in the form of a question.  “Your mother?”  A recap will follow for sure.

You want to use these three active listening techniques in concert with each other as the situation dictates.  Petey could have said, “Now Billy, what I hear you saying is Godzilla, but by the way your flapping your arms up and down and squealing, I sense that you mean Mothra.  Which fictitious monster are we talking about here?”  If the whole class did this, it might have saved some embarrassment and impressed the hell out of the teacher.  No apple required.

Gentle reader, you don’t have to miss the boat when it comes to business communication.  Listen actively instead of passively, using your eyes and ears, re-state the message and keep clarifying until you’ve got it, and then unlike Dick from manufacturing, you won’t get it!

Pick up your download of Selling Solutions pt. 1, 2, or 3, where you’ll learn how to listen and ask the right questions to propose solutions that your prospects will actually buy.

selling solutions audio program, 2 hours audio
Part 1 – $6.00

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selling solutions audio program, 2 hours audio
Part 2 – $6.00

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Part 3 – $6.00

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