Embrace the Awkward Pause and Stop Interrupting While You’re At It

“Be a good listener!”

How many of us have dropped off our children at preschool with that form of gentle guidance, reminding them that listening to others is an important way to show self-control, respect, courtesy and social awareness? How many of us then get back in our car, drive to work, and dismiss the critical importance of showing that same self-control, respect, courtesy and social awareness in our own business interactions?

Being a ‘good listener’ involves many mindful behaviors that don’t always come naturally to us. Listening is an overall attitude of valuing the perspective of the other person. It is not about convincing them to agree with our way of thinking, but rather, learning about their perspective on a subject so that we may collaborate to reach a shared understanding.

There are a few key points to remember as we enter a conversation with anyone:

  • Pay attention to the person who is speaking.
  • Keep eye contact.
  • Show interest by nodding or smiling when appropriate.
  • Reaffirm or repeat their thought to be sure you understand their intent, such as, “Do you mean that …?”
  • Do not interrupt as the other person is speaking. Let them finish their thought.
  • Ask questions to gain understanding when the speaker is finished.

Silence is golden.

It can be painfully uncomfortable to sit through a long silence. But don’t be afraid of those periods of pause. Your ability to encourage contemplation shows the other person that you respect their need to digest what was said and to think at their own pace.

Consider this: 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual spoken words. While they are gathering their thoughts, you have the ability to gather secondary cues that further convey how they are feeling. Just relax and remain an active listener — even when no words are being spoken.

Seek First to Understand.

Be a respectful listener. Don’t interrupt or try to be the smartest person in the room or on the call. Allow others to share their feelings and thoughts, uninterrupted — let them shine. In Dr. Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit #5 tells us, “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood”. People form opinions based on their own experiences. Without taking the time to respect, value and understand the other person’s perspective. You likely will glean a completely different summary of the conversation based only on your autobiographical viewpoint.

Empathize with the other person. Put yourself in their shoes. Don’t talk over them. If you are courteous and allow them to express their views, they are more likely to respond the same.

Be an Active Listener.

Ask probing, open-ended questions, rather than focusing on talking about everything you know. Be genuinely interested in what the other person has to say, and seek to gain more information or to clarify what they’ve expressed. Really listen to what they are saying (instead of thinking about your next response) and reflect back to them your interpretation of their comments, to show that you’re trying to understand. When reflecting, be cognizant that they still have the floor. It’s not the time to add your own feelings or advice on the matter, but to paraphrase their comments until they’ve finished that line of thought.

When it is your turn to speak, help the other person be an active listener, as well. Ask them if they understood what you just said with a simple, “does that make sense?” or “does that align with your expectations?” Asking these affirming questions opens the door for them to seek clarity, in case they are not comfortable doing so themselves.

Relationships and Rapport First. Selling Second.

Don’t be in a hurry to get through your talking points or make your sales pitch. Become an expert at building rapport and relationships first.

Our communication style affects how people feel, and this affects the choices they make. Even more than the words we say, making people feel supported, understood, and comfortable is a critical component of our sales process. Forming relationships, maximizing positive feelings, and truly valuing what the other person has to say will be turn out to be the most valuable sales skills you can hone in the end.

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