Fortunately, a simple fix improved my sales performance, personal relationships, and effectiveness.

In the1990’s, when I was working as a sales manager at MCI Communications, I was made aware of a bad habit I had developed that almost cost me my job.

The VP of Sales I reported to pointed out that I interrupted people when they spoke. He then told me that despite the fact that my team was above quota, if the interrupting didn’t stop immediately, my job was in jeopardy.

I was blown away. I had no idea I interrupted people. However, as soon as he mentioned it, I knew he was right. It was embarrassing to think of how many people I had likely insulted with this inconsiderate behavior.

Needless to say, I immediately stopped interrupting people unless I had a very good reason.

There are those who listen and those who are just waiting for their turn to speak.

My manager’s warning made me think. How could I be completely unaware that I was doing this? More importantly, why was I doing this in the first place?

After a lot of soul searching, it hit me: I didn’t have an INTERRUPTING problem – I had a LISTENING problem. Interrupting was the unintended consequence of my failure to truly listen. But why wasn’t I listening? In short, I was:

1) Insecure: I wanted people to think I was smart. I wanted to impress people with my insights, so rather than considering what was being said to me, I simply waited until I could make my point.

2) Inconsiderate: I began to see how my interruptions made others feel that I didn’t think what they had to say was important. Worse still, I realized that some people may have concluded I did not value them at all.

3) Lazy: Soon after I started to make a concerted effort to actually listen, I realized that listening attentively is actually hard work. It takes mental energy to focus on what you hear, consider it carefully, and formulate a thoughtful response.

The truth hurts yet it can also set you free.

I quickly retrained myself to fully listen to someone’s statement before responding. I soon noticed a huge improvement in my effectiveness. Here are some positive reasons why it is important to to listen fully:

Listening shows respect.

Listening is a critical component of healthy relationships. It doesn’t matter if the person speaking is a sales prospect, client, boss, spouse, child or a complete stranger. My personal and professional relationships instantly improved when I stopped interrupting.

Listening to someone fully express their thoughts tells them “You matter to me, and I will show my respect for you by fully listening to what you have to say to me.”

Listening creates understanding.

If someone says “That’s not what I said,” or “That’s not what I meant,” chances are you were most likely not listening fully.

As uncomfortable as it is to be told we don’t understand, it is even worse when people don’t tell us we have misunderstood them. We often take action based on this limited or faulty understanding, and that can result in a waste of time, effort and money.

If you have any doubt about what you just heard, it’s a good idea to summarize what you just heard. This avoids faulty assumptions, and it sends a clear message to the speaker – “I am listening to you and I want to make sure I understood your point.”

Listening allows creativity.

Have you ever paused for a moment when expressing a thought – either for dramatic effect or to more fully develop our thought – only to have the person you are talking to use that pause as an opportunity to say what is on their mind?

When this happens, you are left with a dilemma. Try to hold on to your thought or let go of it and listen to what they have to say. Either way, their decision to pounce on your pause, has stifled your creative expression.

If you are lucky, you will be able to remember your thought and it will still make sense to share it assuming the other person has not taken you too far off topic.

Invariably, the next time it is your turn to speak in a conversation with a pouncer, you will feel pressure to rush your thoughts so as to not give them a window to hijack the conversation again.

Listening builds rapport (and sales).

According to Google, the definition of rapport is “a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.”

If you are in sales, you should remember that people tend to want to do business with people they like and trust. In other words, listening will not only improve the quality of your communications, it will also help you to sell more.

Here is what can be done to ensure that you are listening fully:

Pause Don’t pounce.

Take a few seconds consider what you just heard before you respond or ask for clarification. This pause also gives permission for the speaker to continue .

If you want to communicate that you are formulating a response, use verbal cues like “Hmmm…” and non-verbal cues like nodding, raising your eyebrows, or looking up and to the side to indicate you are thinking about what they have just said.

Dig deeper.

When people simply think of what to say next, and look for their opportunity to interrupt they are not having a conversation – they are simply trading statements with people.

A discussion is an attempt to completely explore and truly understand one or more topics. The best way to do that is to respond with a question instead of a statement such as “That’s an interesting point – why do you feel that way?”

By probing further, we gain a deeper understanding of a speaker’s perspectives, beliefs or concerns, which in turn makes them feel trusted & respected – something we all desire.

This story has a happy ending. I kept my job, my team sold more, and I am still in touch with my former VP of Sales, who I consider a friend and mentor. Good thing I listened that time.

Questions:

Do you work with someone that interrupts?

What happens to the conversation when one or more parties interrupt?

How do you handle those specific situations?

What are your thoughts on this?

Reminders:

Please print this topic and bring it with you to this week’s Sales Growth meeting.

Our next meeting is at 7:30am on Wednesday, July 8th, at the Vita restaurant in Dolce Basking Ridge (300 N Maple Ave, Basking Ridge, NJ 07920). We meet for networking and breakfast at 7:30am and the meeting starts at 8:00am. The cost for the meeting which includes their excellent breakfast (and tip) is $20.00 per person.

Please confirm your attendance by replying to this email or by accepting the calendar invite you received.

Happy selling this week. Remember, it’s an abundant world so focus on building value and detach from the outcome.

Comments below are appreciated and welcomed.

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