For all the tools and assets that we have created over the years to "help" communication, we haven't gotten better at actually paying attention. Think I'm crazy? Go to your local coffee shop and watch people.
Talking to one person while they scroll and look through their news feed on the phone - with one ear bud in and one hanging out.
It kind of gives the impression that they aren't listening.
If anything, the overall "connectedness" we suffer from today leaves us sorely lacking when it comes to being able to actively carry on a conversation where we are really listening to the other person, much less understanding their body language.
As I learned long ago, as a newly-minted encyclopedia salesman selling door-to-door (for you younger folks, encyclopedias were the "Google" of those bygone days), if you are talking with someone, you have to pay attention to what they are saying and what they are doing - at all times!
In fact, some studies suggest that up to 90% of a conversation - even a sales conversation - is unspoken and operates solely with cues from body language and inflection.
In other words - you have to be 100% there to be able to make a sale where there will be any type of objection. The cashier at the gas station isn't "selling" you anything, thus he may or may not be "in the moment" but if you're truly selling me something, you have to understand why I need it - and then help me to buy it!
In other words, you have to be actively listening.
With that in mind, let's look at what "Active Listening" is and what it isn't and apply it to the business setting.
For starters, we can define Active Listening as the response of the listener to one who is conversing with them. It requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said.
Simple? Sure, until you are listening to music, driving in traffic, yelling at a co-worker, and looking out the window.
The key word, of course, is "active" - implying that listening - even though it is a skill that requires little or no action - in this case requires actions.
A well-timed nod of the head.
A pertinent interjection, such as to clarify a point in the dialogue.
Preserving questions until there is a break in the conversation and they can be addressed without disrupting the speaker.
And most importantly, NOT formulating responses or writing notes while the speaker is still talking.
Wait, what? Yes, you heard me - the instant you begin taking copious notes, you quit listening (or become a distraction) to the speaker ... they know that you just turned them off and are no longer paying attention.
Why is this so important? Simple, most people like to talk and they also love to be heard. All those years ago, selling encyclopedias, I knew if I could simply build enough rapport with the person that lived in the house I was visiting and then listen to them, I could likely get the sale. Why? I listened to them. I knew - and they told me - about their kids, their families, their education, and the challenges they faced. From there, it was a simple step to begin, at the appropriate time, the actual sales presentation that my company had trained me to use (and one that, by the way, worked extremely well).
Do you see where I'm about to remind you to go?
Right back to systems - training systems that teach your teams how to listen, sales systems that ensure your teams know how to present properly, and continuous education for your team to understand how to capture the non-verbal cues that potential customers volunteer to them in the course of a conversation.
There's one other component of this entire process that can impact your team, too. Today, people aren't used to someone listening to them. The idea of a sales professional leaning in to hear, asking questions that are directly in response to something that has been stated, and indicating they are 100% "in the moment" with the speaker has real value.
That's something that comes in "loud and clear."