I once heard a story about how President Franklin Roosevelt often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests responded with phrases like, “Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir.” It was not till the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming.”
In Part I on this topic we covered some suggestions to becoming a great active listener. Now you need to be warned about some stumbling blocks to accomplishing that goal. You will quickly see that several of these are simply bad habits. Let’s get started:
Personal prejudices – When you feel that someone is unattractive, either physically or maybe in their manner of speaking, it becomes harder to listen to them. You will naturally have a tendency to criticize them or at least want them to finish talking and be quiet. Other prejudices include race, gender, age, or religion. To overcome these biases you must work hard to set them aside in order to become an equal opportunity listener!
Mentally playing “tennis” between two separate conversations – This stumbling block could include focusing on a distraction, such as a TV, in the same room with the one you are supposed to be listening to. Another diversion might be attempting to monitor two conversations occurring simultaneously, or possibly even answering phone calls or responding to texts while trying to listen to someone speaking. You might be good, but you aren’t that good. You must train yourself to ignore the distractions occurring in the room, and the best way to do that is with focused eye contact.
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Being judgmental – It could be that you aren’t interested in the topic or issue being discussed and quickly become bored. You must realize that the person you are in conversation with is the only person in the world at that time, and therefore their topic of conversation must be of interest to you.
Sympathizing instead of empathizing – By feeling sorry for the experiences of another, you completely abandon your position so that this person is selling you! This answer is, rather than feeling sorry for others, try slipping on their shoes for the time you are with them.
Previous experiences – Everyone is influenced by past events in their lives, and often respond to people based on those incidences. It is never helpful to remind yourself, “She sounds just like that lady I got stuck sitting next to on the flight back from the west coast last Christmas, and I remember how miserable that was.” By stereotyping others we become less objective and therefore less likely to actively listen.
Preoccupation – When you “have a lot of fish to fry” in your own life, you easily fail to listen to what is being said by others. Whether it is job stress, financial worries, or personal deadlines, it’s extremely difficult to give others their “fifteen minutes of fame.” Although it’s not easy, you must mentally reach for the handle and “flush” personal preoccupations from your mind when it’s crucial to focus on what others are saying. Don’t fret, all those personal issues will still be there when your listening assignment has been completed!
Assuming and pre-judging – Perhaps you feel that a person is not very bright or is under-qualified. Maybe you determine in your mind that they can’t afford what you’re selling, or that they won’t be interested in what you’re proposing. Never forget the message contained in the graphic to the right of this paragraph! Frankly if you continue to pre-judge, there will be no point to listening to what others have to say. (Several months ago I wrote an article that is posted on LinkedIn called Never Assume that details several specific instances where I have personally been guilty of making major boo-boo’s in this area.) You don’t have to agree with the point of view of others, but you really should be willing to listen and attempt to understand. You might be surprised!
The key to effective listening is the ability to always have an open mind, to attempt to understand why others think differently from you, and then using that information to gain a better perception of the one speaking. Active listening is also a prerequisite to being a top seller!
You will find lots of ideas and suggestions pertaining to this and many other communication skills on my website. Take a few minutes and browse at www.robinsontrainingsolutions.com.
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