Open Your Ears, Not Your Mouth

Communication Series 1: Active Listening   


Huh. Oh. Yes. OK. Wow. These short words can pack a powerful punch, because they can convey that you are there, that you care, that you are listening.

From Former President Bill Clinton to writer Maya Angelou, a trait commonly attributed to some of the most charismatic individuals in our culture has been their ability to make others feel like the most important person in the room. Since people generally like to feel that way, it’s a sure-fire way to engage anyone, especially a customer. It happens through active listening.

How do they do it?

Here’s a partial breakdown of several active listening skills that apply directly to sales:

Listen for what others are NOT saying just as much as what they are.
Intonation, volume and speed of delivery can communicate more than the meaning of specific words. You can only catch those important cues if you’re really paying attention. This will allow you to offer the products that best match a customer’s unspoken needs.

Don’t interrupt.
Many people think out loud. When we have an important thought, it sometimes takes awhile to formulate it clearly. If you interrupt, you may never hear the most important part of the dialogue, and thereby miss out on an opportunity to offer the right insurance solutions.

Use positive body language.
Customers want an insurance agent who will stand by them. If you are talking to someone in person, subtle actions like mirroring their body posture, leaning toward them, and maintaining a pleasant expression on your face send the message that you are on their side.

Listen to yourself, too.
Do you have a verbal tic that needs to be pared? Do you hear yourself often repeating the same word or phrase? This can mean you’ll be perceived as insincere or unengaged. Or just plain irritating.

Reflect back what you’ve heard.
If you go into a conversation with the aim of repeating back the salient points, you’ll have no choice but to listen with intent. This is especially important to do during stressful or difficult conversations when your mind may be tempted to wander toward easier thoughts.

It’s their agenda, not yours.
In sales, it’s easy to get focused on your own sales goals. You may want a client to purchase a specific product, but that’s irrelevant if it’s not what they want or need.

Summarize in writing if appropriate.
A quick, friendly email that lays out agreed-upon action steps will close the loop on a conversation and demonstrate that you listened actively throughout.

This is the first of three blog posts about communications skills. Come back for more!

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