How To Develop Active Listening

Jonathan Farrington

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Your role in the sales situation alternates between sender and receiver of messages. The very best sales professionals devote a large portion of the sales interview to listening.

Creative Ability is geared to perceptiveness. Your ears are as important to perception as your eyes.

Understanding people and Human Motivation demands alertness to behaviour clues. Among the most important clues is the words people use.

Human Relations is helping others like themselves. Sincere listening demonstrates sincere interest.

The best sales approach begins with a question. Listening for the answer is your guidepost to the right road.

Solutions to problems are based on what we hear in answer to the questions we’ve asked.

Good listening is the shortest distance between you and more sales; better sales, faster sales.

Good listening is a skill that requires much conscious practice.

There are many bad listening habits common to most of us.

  • We lable subjects dull and uninteresting and tune out.

  • We look only for facts, not ideas.

  • We stress the speaker’s manner of delivery and speech habits and ignore the contents of their words.

  • We let our emotions colour and obscure the inflow. (We judge before we understand, and lose the thread. )

  • We permit ourselves to be distracted.

  • We pretend to listen but we don’t hear .
  • We go off on mental tangents.

    These poor listening habits are “pick-pockets" that rob us into mental and sales poverty. Be alert to them and avoid them.

    Good listening is real work. But there are many things in our favour. Average speech speed is 125 words per minute. We can listen six times as fast. This gives the listener a time advantage over the speaker.

    The good listener applies the "EARS" Formula to exploit this advantage. They:

    Evaluate – search for evidence that the speaker might use to support their statements

    Anticipate – tries to predict what the next point will be

    Review – mentally summarises the main points the speaker has covered

    Speculate – read between the lines to ask: “What is he/she really saying?"

    It pays also to listen with your eyes as well as your ears. Frequently, a gesture, an expression, will reveal as much or more than words.

    Remember, too, communication involves four steps:

    Step One: Sensing the message and the stimuli that goes with it

    Step Two: Interpreting it (to be sure you understand)

    Step Three: Evaluating it (never judge before you understand)

    Step Four: Reacting (either verbally or non-verbally)

    And Finally - Some additional hints on listening:

  • Be neutral. Let the other person have their full say.

  • Give them complete attention… and reinforcement.

  • If appropriate, ask them to explain further.

  • Rephrase their main points and “play them back" to them…to help them see if they have said exactly what they wanted to say, and to make sure you understand.

  • Put their “feelings" into words. This will help them evaluate and perhaps modify their statement…and it gives further evidence of your understanding.

  • At the appropriate time, get agreement. Summarise what you have both said as a preparation for the next step. If possible, have them suggest the course of action.

    Copyright © 2006 Jonathan Farrington. All rights reserved

    Jonathan Farrington is the Managing Partner of The jfa Group. To find out more about the author or to subscribe to his newsletter for dedicated sales professionals, visit:

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