Hearing Isn't the Same as Listening, and Listening Alone Isn't Enough
I’m going to bet that something like this has happened to you within the last 30 days – you’ve been talking with someone while multitasking (reading an article, checking email, watching someone out the window, etc.) when the person you’re talking to has just finished the conversation with a question. Something like: Do you agree?; What time works?; or Is he signed up? You immediately realize that you don’t know what they said in the three sentences prior. You heard them, but you weren’t listening. If they hadn’t stopped to ask a question, you might have gone on “listening” to them for another 10 minutes.
I’ve spent a significant part of my career physically in front of customers and was fortunate to have training on listening skills early on. Some of you may have had similar “active listening” types of training either for work, volunteer organizations or your personal life. There are hundreds of classes, books, articles and speakers which address this topic, but the common foundational element is that it takes engagement of all of our senses to really listen. Said another way, we simply can’t be doing two things at once and expect to listen. As our society moves faster, this becomes even more challenging. Think about the challenge that smart phones bring to active listening. How many times a day do you look at your phone while having a conversation with the person standing next to you?
Listening does not come naturally to any of us. It is a learned skill that must be practiced intentionally; although, it can be improved over time. For some of us, it is even more difficult due to a predisposition to feeling uncomfortable with silence. Rather than listening and allowing the other person to completely express their thoughts, we fill the silence with our own words. Worse yet, some of us finish another’s sentences assuming we know what their complete thought was going to be. While there are great tools to improve our listening skills, it is not enough just to become a good listener. We must become good listeners with open minds.
Envision a sales person who has sold the same product, in the same applications, for 15 years. Over the course of their career, they have developed a deep level of knowledge and experience – which is used every day to add value for their customers by solving problems and providing guidance. A customer begins talking about an issue the sales person immediately believes they have previously seen 26 times before while working with other customers. Rather than listening with an open mind, they are now listening with a filter. The more experienced we get in whatever it is that we do, the harder it becomes to have an open mind. Our desire to be valued for our knowledge and ability to solve problems can cause us to stop listening with an open mind and begin solving a problem we don’t yet fully understand.
I feel challenged every day to continue building upon these skills, forgoing preconceived dispositions and filters. Listening is a learned skill and even more so listening with an open mind; it doesn’t develop over night or stay sharp without constant use. Consistent and intentional use of this skill will provide significant benefits to all of your relationships, both personal and professional.
Scott Huntsman - Sr. Executive Director of Sales