The Most Important Skill to Focus on This Year

Listening, Questioning

grocery story question not listeningAt the grocery checkout stand yesterday, the friendly clerk asked the question that I know they are trained to ask, since I’ve heard it hundreds of times:

“Did you find everything you were looking for?”

I’m always friendly when I smile and answer,

“Yes, and more.” It’s a good question, IF the person asking actually cares, and listens to the answer. Just as with most questions. I’m often tempted to say, “Actually, no, I had a horrible time. Could you just please have someone go find all of these items on my list and I’ll wait here.”

Yesterday, after she had already asked the question, and proceeded to ring up four of my eight items, she asked again,

“Did you find everything OK?”

My first reaction was to laugh, and I almost said, “Now that you asked again, it reminded me that I didn’t.” But I just smiled and replied, “Yes I did, thanks.”

I’ve written about this before, and it must be fairly common since I’ve had it happen at hotel front desks, Starbucks, the hair cutting place, Subway, and others establishments. It’s routinely and habitually asking a question, and not listening to the answer.

Dangerous to be sure.

As we begin 2013, let me share some tips on the skill that is most important to your success this year:


Just Get Out of the Way

It really seems so simple. I wish I didn’t have to learn it the hard way early in my career: just shutting up and getting out of the way.

I asked a training client, “Where do you feel your people need improvement?”

He began talking, and, these are word-for-word, the answers he gave me in rapid-fired succession:

“What we would like to do is…”

“Where we are having trouble is…”

“We are weak in the area of…”

“What we are faced with is…”

I could barely write fast enough. And of course I drilled down with deeper question in each of those areas. When it came time for my recommendation, I just plugged his words back in.

It’s Not About You
Do you really hear what prospects and customers say, or do you just wait for them to finish talking so you can have your turn? Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand. Instead they filter everything through their own needs.

For example, do you say things like, “Oh, I went through the same thing. Let me tell you about it . . .”

If so, see things through your customers’ eyes.

The “Three Sentence” Rule
Here’s a useful tip on presentations and listening: Try not to make more than three statements without getting some type of feedback, or asking a question to elicit their response. This way, you ensure you’re not talking too much about irrelevant points. Hearing their feedback keeps you on track.

When They Mention Numbers
While on a sales call with a training prospect he said,

“There are four important things we teach our sales reps…”

You can bet I wrote as quickly as I could to get those down. And then I repeated them to be sure I understood. It might seem obvious, but this made it easy for me to tell him exactly how I would help him. A couple of points here:

-Any time someone mentions numbers, such as,
“There are three key areas we need work on…” you need to laser in with your listening.

-If they do not volunteer this info, ask for it: “What are the three areas you feel you need the most work on?”

More On Numbers” Listen, Then Multiply
When prospects and customers offer a number that represents dollars or amount of time they’re losing, wasting, or missing on a monthly basis, multiply that figure for them to point out the actual yearly total.

For example,

Prospect: “I’d say those workplace injuries probably cost us 20 hours worth of downtime per month.”

Caller: “Wow. So what you’re saying is that on a yearly basis you’re down 240 hours because of injuries.”

Listen for “Future Tense” Statements
Listen for your prospect speaking in the present or future tense regarding your product or service, or the other details that would be affected by a purchase. This means that emotionally they already have bought. They see themselves in the picture, already using your product or service. For example,
“I guess we’d make room in the back office for the unit.”

“Hmm, I’m not sure how many people I would train on that installation.”

“We will probably need to adjust our production schedule to meet the new demand.”
Think of what statements you hear that indicate emotional ownership and be on the lookout for them. Upon hearing them, move toward the solid commitment.

Make it a point to listen more in 2013, and you will certainly hear more YES answers.

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