Listening, Not “Hearing” — Cultivating a Lost Skill

Build Trust Through Listening

Did you know that “silent” is an anagram of “listen”?

The anagram was only made obvious to me recently when I was speaking with a musician who told me that measures of silence in music are not waiting periods, they are times of active listening, much like a good conversation. Silence accentuates listening.

We all know that listening is a key part of building trust in a relationship but how good are we at it really? It seems to me that most of us are pretty good at knowing listening is a good thing – as long as it’s other people listening to us! I sat next to a machine tool salesman on a flight back from Geneva. He talked at me about his job and machine tools from take off until UK passport control. Early in this rather one-sided conversation he told me that listening was the most important selling skill!

listen bird

Hearing Is Not Listening

Listening in a way that is authentic and builds trust isn’t easy. Too often we are hearing, not listening. We lose the art of focusing on words, tone, and meaning because we have so much noise going on that we can’t be truly silent. It’s worse if we have a strong opinion or if we have experience. We sometimes don’t even shut up long enough to allow the other person to speak. Interruptions happen because one party can’t wait to get their point or opinion across. When interruptions are frequent, the dynamics of a conversation change. When I ask groups what they think of people who have a habit of interrupting they use words like:

  • rude
  • frustrating
  • irritating
  • annoying
  • self interested

The interrupter may think he or she is getting a point across but more often than not they are simply switching the other person off, or the other person pushes back with their own arguments and no one is listening to anyone!

Clear Your Mind

Listening isn’t just about being quiet. We might avoid interrupting, we might not be speaking, but often our brain isn’t silent at all. It is buzzing with thoughts about the next questions to ask, the next point to make, listening for buying signals, wondering if we will make a sale, wondering what’s for dinner!  We all know when someone isn’t listening to us, prospects and customers know if they are not being listened to. There are dozens of obvious as well as subtle signals that we are all sensitive to.

We notice if someone eyes glance across the room and they lose attention, we notice when someone asks the same question twice or if someone doesn’t take a moment to digest what we have said before pouncing on us with their own view. It may not matter in the debating chamber but it certainly matters if we are trying to win business and build long term relationships.

Listening is hard work; it needs to be a conscious competence. We need to be in the moment, to allow our silence to be broken only by the word of the other person.

Listening is an advanced communication skill – how skilled at it are you?

David Tovey is a motivational speaker, coach, consultant and author of Principled Selling – How to Win More Business Without Selling Your Soul. With over 25 years of sales and marketing experience, David works with individuals and organizations to help them build amazing business relationships and achieve outstanding sales growth with a joined-up approach to inbound marketing, social media, sales, major account management, and sales leadership. You can read his blog or you can contact David by email at [email protected]

Photo credit: Listen Bird by striatic