Recently I received feedback from an interview with a prospective client: I was told that I was too quiet, too passive in my time with them – that, instead of selling, I listened too much.
This has to be some of the most rewarding feedback I’ve received in my career.
When I was a young lawyer, one of our senior partners had an odd accompaniment to his usual white-glove insurance defense practice: doctor divorces. When asked, this well-known and accomplished lawyer would explain: in these cases, he would always quote an astronomical retainer and then, two things could happen – and both of them were good! (they would either pay or go away).
To me, learning that I listened too much meant that: (a) I must have progressed to another level on Maslow’s hierarchy or something similar (there have to be some points on some scorecard somewhere for that!); and (b) I dodged a bullet – if this prospect didn’t value the fact that I earnestly wanted to listen to them and all of the details relating to their situation, they surely wouldn’t value my conclusions and recommendations thereafter. As I only want to work in situations where both sides feel like I’m adding value, the negative outcome was, in the end, satisfactory.
It seems that every day I find myself in meetings where folks are literally fighting with each other over air time. Interrupting. Raising their voices. Shaking, pacing, making faces. All to ensure that their precious points are made.
Unfortunately, the message they’re really sending is: I don’t care what you think because I didn’t even hear what you said.
In response, the natural response of their boss, counterparty, prospective client, etc., is: If you don’t want to listen to me, why should I listen to you?
The net result: No matter how insightful those precious points are, the message is not received, the sale is lost, the opportunity extinguished. What a shame.
In contrast, in my experience, if you let the other folks talk, they’ll pretty much tell you what they want and how you can help them get there – and this is probably why you’re meeting with them in the first place. Furthermore, like dressing properly, being on time, and showing good manners – active, engaged listening conveys respect, which is always the right thing to do (we generally get back what we project).
If you struggle in this area (replay your last few meetings in your mind and you’ll know), here are a couple of tips:
- NEVER interrupt – it’s rude, it’s unprofessional, it’s disrespectful
- PAUSE – when the other person stops speaking, take a breath, tap the table, just do something to count out a few seconds before you respond – even if you’re still intent upon speaking your piece, at least the other side will perceive that you have heard them
- THINK and then respond – process what you’ve been told, respond to any questions they pose, build upon their point as a bridge to your next point
Ironically, as you apply these tactics, you’ll find that you will recoup more by saying less. Also, along the way, you’ll get to “meet” some interesting people. Even in a business context we are, after all, all human beings. Take some time to get to know the folks you’re privileged to get to meet. You may make a connection that will last you a lifetime (in addition to making a good deal). That works.
Thanks as always for reading, commenting, forwarding and tweeting.