The art of listening

“The person talking is the one having a good time.” That’s one of the lessons I learned from my father. Financial advisors often want to establish themselves as experts. They talk a lot. It makes more sense to listen, but listening is both an art and a learned skill. Here are a few pointers.

  1. Listening means talking less. It’s been said the word “listen” ends with “ten” because you should have a 10:1 ratio between letting them talk and you talking. That might be extreme, but you should let the other person do the talking.
  2. They are giving you information. That was another lesson from my father: “Every time someone opens their mouth, they are giving you information.” As an advisor, you want to identify a need. If you let them talk enough, they just might tell you.
  3. Write things down. You learn a lot when you meet people casually. You think you will remember details, but that isn’t always the case. In these social settings, don’t write in front of them. Disappear, make your notes and return to the main room.
  4. Look at their eyes. This shows you are paying attention. It’s also said to convey sincerity. It can be difficult to maintain eye contact. If that’s a problem for you, look at their nose instead. That’s close enough.
  5. Draw them out. Expressions like “Tell me more” encourage them to keep talking. This goes back to “The person talking is the one having a good time.” The ideal outcome is afterward, they will think “I liked that guy!” Why? Because the talker got to tell their favorite stories.
  6. Give to get. Asking questions can sometimes appear nosey. They might wonder: Why do you want to know? Asking “Where do you live?” is a tame question. It’s even softer if you start with “Jane and I live in New Hope. Where do you live?” You are volunteering information to gather information.
  7. Avoid controversial subjects. When you meet a stranger, you know little about them. If you remarked: “I don’t understand, given the scientific data we now have, why anyone still smokes cigarettes.” They might be a smoker. You don’t know because you just met them. You have your convictions, but you might scare people away.
  8. It’s a conversation, not an interrogation. Sales is a lot like dating. I recently watched a program involving dating. A woman said it was a turnoff when she met a guy who kept firing off questions and not giving her a chance to ask her own questions. Conversation is a back-and-forth activity.
  9. Repeat things back. This can apply directly to sales situations. The prospect tells you their dreams, hopes or preferences. When they have finished speaking, you recap the highlights. This impresses them because they realize you were paying attention.
  10. Remember details. When you meet people again and again in social situations, it’s good to remember what you talked about last time and bring it up. “How was your vacation in Hawaii?” is a good example. “I hope your mother is feeling better” shows you care about them on a personal level.
  11. Discover their passion. I believe anyone in the room can be the life of the party if you get them talking about their passion or favorite subject. Someone might appear quiet. Draw them out. For example, people love talking about their children and their achievements. People with a hobby are often eager to share their knowledge with someone interested enough to ask questions.

Listening is both an art and a science. The major skill to learn is not to talk too much about yourself.

Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. His book “Captivating the Wealthy Investor” is available on Amazon.

For more tips to take your listening skills to the next level:

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