One of the most critical element for sales success is the ability to listen effectively. Whenever I conduct sales training seminars, I always include a segment on listening skills because being a good listener helps you in so many ways throughout the sales process.

And one of the challenges is that we all tend to believe we’re great listeners, when the truth is that most of us suck. As Sharon Drew Morgen—in her new book, WHAT? Did You Really Say What I Think I Heard?—points out:

In general, we assume we hear accurately and that a miscommunication is the other person’s fault. I have a neighbor who is adamant that he hears and interprets every single word accurately, yet he can’t keep a job or a relationship or a friend and he’s 50 years old. So much for reality.

The gap between what we think we hear and what is actually being communicated is the focus of Morgen’s new book, a well-researched and well-written exploration of why communication goes wrong and what you can do about it.

The book is divided into two sections. Section One explores how listening works and—more frequently—how it doesn’t work.

Conversations seem so simple don’t they? The Sender speaks, the Receiver listens then responds. And so it goes. We nod, disagree, share, have a passionate dialogue. It works. It flows. It’s natural. Yet every conversation is fraught with the possibility of failure. Every exchange potentially includes so many biases and assumptions that don’t seem like biases and assumptions that we actually hear so little of what’s really been said, yet we think our version of what we’ve heard is accurate whether it is or not.

The problem is that our brains simply don’t hear accurately. Morgen incorporates the latest academic research as she discusses how and why our brains distort what we hear and the resulting trouble it can cause.

Few of us know how much business we’ve lost because of the lengths our brains go to keep us within our comfort zones. We end up distorting a boss’s request, or misrepresenting a colleague’s ideas, or inventing a prospect’s need, or assuming a spouse’s negative intent when there was none. And it’s so hard to fix when it’s not obvious there’s a problem.

Morgen delineates:
• Nine major elements of communication (and how they can go wrong)
• Four types of filters and how they limit, alter, and misrepresent what we hear
• Seven types of biases that prevent us from hearing accurately
• And other conversational pitfalls.

To illustrate each of these communication barriers, Morgen includes plenty of stories that are both dismaying and hysterical. My favorite was this one:

An article I’d written appeared in a British magazine. Underneath the photo of me, my name appeared as Charlotte Drew Morgan. I called the magazine editor and asked if he could please print a correction with my name accurately printed in the next issue.

Editor: We didn’t get the name wrong.

SDM: But Charlotte Drew Morgan is not my name. My name is Sharon Drew Morgen. You got my name wrong.

Editor: We don’t get that sort of thing wrong. You must have sent it to us wrong.

A head-scratching exchange. How far are we willing to go to make others wrong just to maintain our biases? How many conversations and relationships have we damaged along the way? How much business lost?

It’s those damaged relationships and lost business that WHAT? Did You Really Say What I Think I Heard? seeks to prevent in Section Two. Morgen reveals how to listen more effectively, without bias or misinterpretation. This information goes way beyond what many of us have learned as “Active Listening.” I teach listening skills and I learned a lot.

Throughout Section Two are a variety of quizzes, checklists and exercises to help you develop these new skills. Skills that Morgen acknowledges are  not easy to master:

I won’t sugar coat this: you will get it wrong, be confused, and be frustrated. It will take effort. I know I’m asking you to be conscious and disciplined, so it will be uncomfortable. But maybe this new skill will be less effort than picking up the pieces of a broken relationship, a lost business opportunity, or hurting a friend.

Within 24 hours of finishing WHAT? Did You Really Say What I Think I Heard? I was able to notice biases in my listening that I wouldn’t have been aware of before. And I was able to recognize when others misheard me and why, which enabled me to rephrase what I meant to ensure I was correctly understood.

It’s hard to overstate the value of effective communication, not just in sales, but also customer service, production, leadership and every other area of business. Strong communication skills—and especially strong listening skills—are vital to both your business and personal success. Which is why WHAT? Did You Really Say What I Think I Heard? should be required reading for everyone in your organization.

And the good news is, you can get a copy for everyone in your organization at no cost! Sharon Drew Morgen is so passionate about helping people improve their sales success that she’s giving the book away for free. Just click on any of the book title hyperlinks to visit the page where you can download your free copy to your favorite e-reader, computer or mobile device.

The gap between what’s said and what’s heard can be the gap between making the sale and losing it. Between getting the promotion and missing it. Between a lasting relationship and a broken one. Read WHAT? Did You Really Say What I Think I Heard? and you’ll be able to bridge that gap.