How you communicate with others will often determine the success you have in business. But communication is more than simply your ability to relate ideas. A key aspect of communication that many business people neglect is their listening capability. The fact is that without highly-tuned listening skills, your business and client rapport will often suffer.
Why is listening so important? Clients these days want more than polished sales presentations. They don’t want to be trapped in a conversation where the other person dominates the talk. They want to work with people who seem to truly care about them and their needs and who listen to their concerns and work with them to deliver the best solution. That’s why your ability to effectively listen to others can make or break your business.
It’s important to realize that listening involves much more than simply not talking. It’s a matter of understanding the other person, giving him or her your full attention, not interrupting, and making the other person feel important.
Below are three simple listening techniques you can implement today to improve your client rapport tomorrow.
1. Listen for the other person’s communication style
Everyone learns information with one of three dominant senses: sight, sound, or touch. As a result, people communicate in a style that matches their learning modality. In order to effectively communicate with others, you must identify which style your client is using and then respond to him or her accordingly.
For example, people who are visual learners will use visual language patterns and will say things like, “I see what you mean,” “This looks good,” and “I want my (boss/wife/husband) to see this before I decide.” Their focus is on how your proposal “looks” to them. When you identify a visual learner, focus your conversation around visual aids, such as brochures, flip charts, graphs, and diagrams. These people will need to “see” the facts before they commit.
Auditory learners will use phrases such as “This sounds interesting” and “I want my (boss/co-workers) to hear this.” These people will be less impressed by your visual tools and will need more verbal explanation from you.
Kinetic learners are those who rely on touch or motion to comprehend the information. They’ll typically use phrases like, “Let’s touch base on this tomorrow” and “Run that by me again.” These people will need more hands-on interaction. They learn by doing and may need to do calculations for themselves or write their own changes in the contract.
Always listen to the speech patterns of those you talk to. You’ll be able to judge their communication style and then respond to them in a similar fashion in order to make communication easier and more effective.
While it’s important to know your own communication style, your primary focus should always be on delivering information in the style most preferred by the person you are speaking with. When you can talk to clients in their own language patterns, you’ll gain their attention and their trust.
2. Ask appropriate questions
A key to listening is the ability to gather information. To do this, ask your clients key questions that will invite them to share information with you. This will also better enable you to assess their needs, wants, likes, and dislikes. You can then develop a solution tailored especially for them.
To begin, ask some basic fact-searching questions—those that begin with “when,” “where,” “what,” and “how many.” These are usually easy for people to answer and the ones they are most comfortable with. Some common fact-searching questions are “What style of house are you looking for?” “When would you like to retire?” “How much would you like to invest in a stock plan?” and “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Carefully listen to the answers so you can continue with some deeper questions.
Once you establish the facts, begin to ask “why” questions. These will reveal more personal information and will begin the rapport building process. Some examples are “Why would you like a larger house?” “Why do you want to retire at that age?” “Why is this investment important to you?” and “Why did you set those goals for yourself?”
The more you listen to their answers, the more you’ll uncover the motivation behind their needs. More important, by asking questions, your clients will sense that you are genuinely interested in them and will be more apt to do business with you.
3. Confirm your comprehension
To show the speaker that you are indeed listening, rephrase and repeat key points from the discussion. This will help validate opinions and will show that you understand. Also, be sure to interject with “come on” phrases, such as “I agree,” “Please continue,” “I understand,” and “Oh, really.” Phrases like these encourage people to continue, and the more the other party talks, the more they’ll sell themselves on your solution.
Your relationship will also better develop if you use gestures while listening. This can include maintaining eye contact, smiling when the other person is talking, and nodding in agreement to points. By doing this, the speaker will see you as an active participant in the conversation, and the developing relationship will have more meaning.
Finally, hold any in-depth comments you may have until the speaker is finished speaking. Nothing turns a person off more than someone who interrupts the conversation. Furthermore, to ensure that you fully comprehend all that your clients say, refrain from formulating your responses while they are still talking. If you’re continually planning what you’re going to say, you will inevitably miss some important details the other person reveals. Constant rebuttal formulation will also put you in a defensive mindset. In order for your client to view you as a partner and not an opponent, you need to keep an open mind and gather all the information possible. Your clients will appreciate this common courtesy and will place a higher importance on the relationship you develop.
There’s no doubt that listening is an art form that must be mastered in order to attain long-term business success. You’ll discover that when you build relationships rather than continually hard-sell your products and services, your clients will reward you with future business and continual referrals. By practicing these three steps, you can make all your client interactions much more enjoyable and much more profitable for you and your company.
Now you’re on the road to Building a Better Biz!