Friday, July 25, 2008

Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

Why would you start with Stephen Covey's 5th habit, if there are 4 others to be read first?
Well...good question.

It appears to me that listening skills are easily overlooked in most sales trainings.
So - let's talk about that.

Salesmen pitching their value proposition in 45 seconds from the moment their prospect picks up the phone aren't the salesmen that will be successful in this era. In today's environment, it is increasingly more important to be a consultant to your customer than before. Without doubt, understanding your customer's problems, and solving their pain is the best road towards building a long-term mutually valuable relationship.

Seen in that light, asking the right questions, and listening to your customer are more important than pitching your value prop. The great thing is: you learn more about the customer, you receive information you didn't know perhaps, rather than shooting off a well-rehearsed pitch, that you've certainly heard yourself doing hundreds of times before.

Stephen Covey claims that communication is the most important skill in life.
I agree - in fact, by default communication is the only way to break solitude.
As a professional, as an individual, as a partner, a parent, in any environment really.

You spend years learning how to read and write, and years learning how to speak. but what about listening?

What training have you had that enables you to listen so you really, deeply understand another human being? Probably none, right? If you're like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across.
And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you're listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely.

So why does this happen? Because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say, the questions you are going to ask, etc. You filter everything you hear through your life experiences, your frame of reference. You check what you hear against your past experiences and see how it measures up. And consequently, you decide prematurely what the other person means before he/she finishes communicating. Do any of the following sound familiar? "Oh, I know just how you feel. I felt the same way." "I had that same thing happen to me." "Let me tell you what I did in a similar situation." Because you so often listen autobiographically, you tend to respond in one of four ways:

Evaluating: You judge and then either agree or disagree.
Probing: You ask questions from your own frame of reference.
Advising: You give counsel, advice, and solutions to problems.
Interpreting: You analyze others' motives and behaviors based on your own experiences.

Trying to relate or sympathize by drawing on your own experience isn't mal-intended, and in some cases another person specifically asks for help from your point of view or when there is already a very high level of trust in the relationship. However, listening to the person without bias, as difficult as it may sometimes be, is the only way to true understanding.

Are you listening?
Bueller... anyone?

No comments: