Thursday, August 26, 2004

Persuasive Listening

Listening well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk
well. - John Marshall

Most people think that sales is simply a process of talking until you persuade the listener to take action. Effective salespeople however, know to stop talking and simply listen. The best salespeople will listen and help you sell to yourself.

This skill needn't be used simply for the successful completion of a commercial transaction - it adds enormous value to all of the encounters you have during the day and makes for a better life. It's also an acquired habit.

How can you improve your listening? First, by admitting even the slightest possibility that you might not always listen with absolute effectiveness. So there is some room for improvement, however small. Commit to improving.

When you are serious about listening to someone, first be sure you turn to them and look at them. And look into the windows of their soul - their eyes. Remembering (and working) to look a speaker in the eyes requires you to focus your attention on the speaker.

Next is that little voice in your head, that can take you to where the speaker is heading or it can take you in a thousand divergent directions. Don't quash the little voice, the thoughts in your head, but focus them as you have focused your gaze - on the speaker. Get that little voice to work towards effective listening. Use it to remember your questions and organize the speaker's words for you.

Very often, I don't hear the questions about what other person has said, until after the conversation is over. This is what I like to call the "Columbo syndrome" (yes, after the TV detective). Usually, I was thinking ahead of the speaker or I was thinking about myself and missed thinking about and acting on the questions I was accumulating.

An example, me in the eternal quest of supremacy over the office copier - I'm currently losing:

My Little Voice (MLV): I really need to get this copied - I have to distribute it before people go home. &#%@!

Me: "%#@*! Jammed! Hey, Amy, how do you clear this?"

Coworker Amy: "You need to open the side of the copier and then it..."

MLV: I know you have to open the side in addition to the front, I've already looked for the jammed paper....

Me (interrupting): "Yeah, I've gotten the side open and flipped open levers A, B, C but I didn't see the paper."

Coworker Amy: "and then it tells you where it's jammed with either a red L.E.D. or on the display panel."

MLV: Why didn't I see any paper jam - is there another problem it could be having? It didn't tell me where it was jammed, so there must be another problem.

Me: "uh huh" I say as I poke more levers inside the evil contraption.

Coworker Amy: "See ya"

MLV: It tells you where it's jammed? Where?

Me: "Bye"

MLV: She's gone, how are you going to figure out where it's jammed? You could've asked Amy...

Me: "Grrrr"

In this little vignette, I hope you see that if I'd just focused on Amy, I would've heard her completely and asked the obvious question. The fact I interrupted her should've told me that I wasn't paying attention!

I should've pulled my hands out of the machine, looked at Amy and concentrated on organizing her thoughts in my brain, putting them in the places I needed to keep them organized. I needed to be "in the moment".

Other ways to focus on the other person:

  • Reflect what you have heard - put the other person's message in your own words and check with the speaker that you have it clear.
  • Check on your emotions - what do you feel right now? Does this go along with the speakers words? If not, you should probably acknowledge it, and in the flow of the the communication let the other person in on it as well. Remember that these emotions are playing across your face and in your body language - probably long before your little voice spoke up to you.
  • Remember your questions as they come up and see if you get the answer without asking. If not, when it's a good time, ask!
  • Think in terms of the other person. Above, Amy is thinking about trying to tell you how to clear the machine. She is not thinking about why I have to have these copies in five minutes. Remember that her goal is helping you unjam the copier - since that is what you asked.

In short: Remember to Turn, Look, and Listen.

This is a lifelong process, but the results can be immediate. People can tell when you're listening.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004


The value of questions is endless. They can keep you looking smart and capable - as previously discussed - they can also make you more capable and smarter. Asking questions doesn't just provide new insights, ideas and facts from others, but can provide direction to your own thoughts as well.

When you communicate, somewhere, somehow you reach a decision that you need to say something. Getting to that decision is where questions - to yourself - provide enormous benefit.

Learn to ask yourself the fundamental question: "What do I want?"

This simple act is a tool for achievement, happiness, and direction in life. And it's not selfish to ask yourself this. Unless it's the only question you ask...

You have a reason for saying something, what is it? Do you want to learn, flatter someone, console someone, teach something, make people laugh, get a refund, avoid a conflict, or simply pass the time getting to know someone? What do you want?

Know why you are communicating, so you're better at answering the question of "How should I communicate this?" Write it, whisper it, send flowers, yell, grovel, or hold your tongue? How depends on what and why. Which you won't know, if you haven't asked!

One of the biggest advantages to writing over speaking is that it forces you to ask these questions. I knew that I wanted to share how important asking yourself questions can be. The tone and organization of this little monograph flowed from that answer. Once you've given this much conscious thought to what you want to communicate, you have fixed in your mind a goal and direction.

Moving that mind-set over to speaking is no easy task. If you don't already have a habit of asking yourself the "What do I want?" question regularly, well, it's an acquired taste. My brain seems wired to ask "how" questions and not the "what" and "why" types. In every arena of life, questions are more and more valuable and worth the time invested in making them work for you.

  • What do I want?
  • What do I want to say?
  • Why?
  • How do I want to say it?
  • When?
  • Where?