I struggle with listening, this is how I get better a bit every day
For the the gabbers and storytellers, sharing our own personal experiences comes naturally; however getting other people to share their own is much more difficult. Stopping to ask thoughtful and truly meaningful questions in conversation takes time, effort, and most importantly — deliberate, and conscious practice.
I’ve always been a better talker than I am a listener — so fighting the gift of gab isn’t quite an easy feat. To help me become a stronger listener and to help others do the same, I’ve created six guidelines that involve speaking less, and asking more.
Give People Permission to Tell You When You Aren’t Really Listening:
As a manager, if you don’t give people permission to tell you that you aren’t hearing them out, most will be afraid to do so. However, it can difficult to do this at first, as many places of work have not trained their employees to give feedback to their “bosses” as bluntly. By establishing a listening rapport early on with your team, it not only lets them know you want to listen, but it also informs the team that you too have flaws that you are working on to make the company better. Hopefully this will engender a feeling of honesty amongst your team, and allows them to be open, and honest with you too.
At my job, I meet with everyone who starts at the company to give them a background on Seer, and I always end that hour talking about what I suck at. I hope that by telling team members upfront my weaknesses, it makes it slightly easier for them to feel like they can help me with my listening skills.
Ask 5 Questions Before You Answer Any
Early on in my career, I often answered every question I was asked without qualifying it, which caused me to often miss the REAL reason why questions were asked. Big shout out to my old sales coach, Scott for teaching me the importance of this big mistake.
Without asking through, follow-up questions, the following scenario will ensue. For instance, a new prospect will say “tell me about your company!” … and sure enough 15 minutes later, I will have told them everything there was to know about SEER. Mission accomplished right?
Wrong. I learned over time each client is looking for a specific piece of information to drive their decisions. In order to hit the bulleyes’, or the clients’ main objective, I make sure to qualify as many questions as I can.
Before an important call with a new prospect or client, a great way to get this going is by turning their first question back into a qualifying question, 5 times. This allows you to shape the agenda of a meeting early on and and answer the clients’ needs more effectively.
So lets resolve the “tell me about your company” scenario above with a slew of purposeful follow-up questions shown below.
Client: Tell me about your company….
Me: What would you like to know? (Q1)
C: Oh just general stuff, clients, a bit about the company, your thoughts on retargeting, etc
M: Well I could talk to you about 30 minutes on each one of those, what is most critical for us to discuss today? (Q2)
C: I guess clients, I want to know if you have clients like me?
M: Is that an important part of your decision? (Q3)
C: Yes it is, so tell me more about clients like me?
M: When you say “like me, ” can you tell me a bit more about that? (Q4)
C: Ecommerce, 50 Million in sales, and uses ABC platform.
M: Oh I have a bunch of clients like that those, but we don’t have any clients on ABC’s platform, is that a dealbreaker for you? (Q5)
M: Ok great, so ….
By asking better questions, I am able to talk about what really will drive the client’s decision and avoid discussing extra topics that aren’t as important
Before starting your next client call, print out this question example, and try to ask as many follow-up questions as possible.
Find the Listener in your Life
We all have that one friend — who makes you feel super comfortable and always alludes a great vibe; yet you can’t pinpoint exactly how they do it. I forget the book and the study it referenced, but there was a psychologist who studied how a person feels about others who listen to them while they are talking. The less the listener talked the more the talker liked them. It was a fascinating study.
For me that person is Tre, the guy at the party who always hold a great conversation and I leave the talk thinking, “damn, I really like Tre — he’s awesome!” To then realize, I don’t really know much about him at all. Tre, is one of those rare people, who ask a ton of questions and listens with care and enthusiasm, while talking very little about himself. At the next party, I make it my goal to get him to talk to me as much as possible about himself — it was REALLY freaking hard. I failed most times, but learning the jiu-jitsu of question-asking from him, I would answer his questions — but this time with a question back.
By striking conversations with people like Tre, try making them your test case. You’ll learn how to become a better conversationalist. You may even find yourself going into conversations and social settings, like an interview where you know people are highly likely to ask you a bunch of questions and say to yourself “I want to get this person to talk about themselves.” It almost becomes a little game.
Use Technology To Track Your Listening
Uberconference has a great feature to improve your listening with team members and clients. It tells you how long each person talked on a call. Before a call, think about the purpose of the call and ask yourself — What is a good amount of time for you to talk? Uber conference at the end of each call will tell you exactly how long you talked vs the other person. I LOVE it when the other person on the call talked 50% or more ☺
Tech can get in the way, too.
If you can’t close your laptop, or turn off your phone long enough to maintain eye-to-eye contact, don’t have the meeting. Nothing makes someone feel less important than the feeling that you are not listening because you are checking your email. Need to check your phone so you don’t go over time? Set an alarm in advance, so in that way you don’t have to pick up your phone to check the time. Nothing says “is this meeting over yet, I have another one” like checking your phone every 5 minutes to see what time it is.
Create ground rules for listening “time”
Once in the face of some personnel issues at SEER, I set aside time to sit in a room, and just take team member’s opinions — I set the rule that I wouldn’t speak unless a question was directed towards me.. I didn’t completely succeed at that, but by creating the rule, it made me cognizant that in that time, my job was to listen to my team over trying to solve problems, which made me listen longer and more closely.
With this same idea in mind, I try to closely monitor the time I spend talking in interviews. I try really hard to stop my questions at ½ of the way through. By using this strategy, I give the interviewee equal time to interview me. It’s my goal to hold a interview that doesn’t sell people on why they should work at SEER, but an opportunity for both of us to discuss our own aspirations and belief systems to decide if we are a good mutual match for one another.
Typically, ground rules like that go against my typical way of thinking, but in this case, some set rules enable me to listen longer.
For those of us out there who are better talkers than listeners, what “hacks” do you have?