We tend to think of talking as the most important element of communicating, and thus, the most important element of sales, leadership, relationships, etc. But communication is a two-way street, and as Tony Alessandra points out in his book, Charisma, “When you want to win someone’s confidence, listening is just as important as speaking. Good listening draws people to you; poor listening causes them to drift away.”
Listening allows you to relax, compose your thoughts, and gather valuable information. And effective listening relaxes the other person, builds rapport, and makes it easier to persuade. Whether you are networking, selling, negotiating, or simply having a casual conversation, listening effectively will help you have a more pleasant and more productive experience.
Keep these principles in mind when listening to others:
See Eye to Eye
When someone is speaking to you it is imperative that you maintain good eye contact with them. Looking at something else sends the non-verbal message that whatever you are looking at is more important than the speaker is. So for Pete’s sake, don’t look at your cell phone every three minutes. An additional benefit for you is that by looking at the speaker, you can pick up on their non-verbal signals, which will help you better understand what they really are (and are not) saying.
Use Your Body
The way your body is positioned can make a big difference in your conversation. Slumping or leaning back in your chair implies boredom or indifference. Instead, lean toward the other person to indicate interest. If you are standing, especially at a networking event, stand at an angle to the other person rather than face to face. This position will allow you to easily hear each other in a crowded room while still giving both of you plenty of personal space in front of you. This “open” body posture also makes it easier and more inviting for additional people to join your networking conversation.
Facial expressions give people a visual cue that you are listening to them. Smiling, frowning, raising your eyebrows, and other facial reactions send a strong signal that you are following what is being said.
Add Sound Effects
Verbal reactions are the auditory equivalent of facial expressions. Words and phrases such as really, oh no, you’re kidding, fantastic, right, uh-huh, and yeah provide a different type of sensory feedback to reinforce the message that you are listening. (Want to expand your verbal repertoire? Check out 59 Ways to Agree with Your Customer.)
The temptation to interrupt people can be overwhelming at times. Let’s face it—we all love to talk. But giving someone our undivided attention and allowing them to speak without fear of interruption is so powerful in building rapport, that it behooves us to exercise restraint. You can, however, use the next three strategies to get a word in edgewise while keeping the conversational focused on the other person.
Asking questions is a sure-fire way to demonstrate interest in the person you are talking with. Asking for clarification, for more details, or even advice (if appropriate; avoid the “Hey Doc, I’ve got this pain…” syndrome), encourages the speaker to continue and communicates that they have an appreciative audience.
Put It Another Way
Repeating the speaker’s ideas in your own words will help ensure that you heard what was actually meant. Paraphrasing also signals the speaker that you want to be sure you understand what they are saying.
Mentioning that you have had an experience similar to what the speaker has described can help to create rapport, because you have something in common. But claiming that your experience was better, worse, faster, slower, cheaper, or more expensive can be counter-productive, because it can make the speaker feel less significant. Focus on the similarities of your stories, not the differences. Remember, you are engaging in a conversation, not a competition.
If you are sincere in your desire to hear what others have to say, it will have a dramatic impact on your sales, as well as all your other business and personal interactions. As Mark Twain once noted, “We despise no source that can pay us a pleasing attention.”