Good Listening Skills: Active Listening

BY Jessica Helinski
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Good listening skills are often the dividing factor between a good sales rep and a bad one. Likely, sales reps have heard about the importance of active listening. But very few have probably taken the time to learn what this good listening skill truly is, let alone hone it. That is a mistake, according to Sales Training Specialists contributor Sean McPheat. The ability to be an active listener requires development and practice.

Developing Good Listening Skills Through Active Listening

Before you can learn how to do something, you must learn what exactly it is. It's the same with active listening. McPheat defines active listening as:

The concept of listening that keeps you engaged in a conversation in a positive way.”

McPheat stresses the importance of positivity, which differentiates active listening from regular listening. Active listening a a good listening skill because it involves:

  • Being non-​judgmental
  • Being curious
  • Patience
  • Asking questions
  • Reflecting back
  • Asking for clarification
  • Summarizing the essence of a conversation

By engaging in active listening, you are embodying the professional sales rep: Someone who truly values what their customer or prospect is saying to them. So, how do you practice this good listening skill? Here are a few of McPheat's suggestions for success:

  • Keep eye contact with the other person. If you are interested in something or someone, you look at it or them. When you're not interested, your eyes wander and so does your mind. Make your prospect or client knows that you are interested in what they have to say to you by maintaining eye contact with them. (Obviously not in a creepy way where your posture is rigid and you barely blink because your gaze is so intense. But keep your eyes on the prospect or client in a casual way.) That way, you will send a message that you are interested in what is being said and silently communicate that their words are important to you. 
  • Watch non-​verbal behavioral cues. Gestures and subliminal messages are included in good listening skills because they can speak volumes. If your client's arms are crossed, they're expressing that they are at least uncomfortable if not angry. They're fortifying themselves by keeping their arms close to their body. Plan your response with that information in mind. Also, it's not just your prospect or client's body language you need to pay attention to. If you're ignoring your own, you can give off the wrong message. For example, if you are tapping your foot while your prospect or client is speaking to you, you're sending off signals that you are inpatient with them, or maybe even bored. Both are terrible messages to be sending to someone who's words you care about. Keep yourself in check. 
  • Watch interviews on TV to see who does and does not practice active listening. Watching others in action will help you fine tune your own skills. “This will give evidence that you can become familiar with, and practice yourself,” he explains.

Check out McPheat’s entire article for all of his suggestions; you may be surprised at how easy it is to shift to active listening. As he writes, “Being self-​aware could be the first step in improving your active listening skills.” The time and effort you put into developing as a listener can only increase your professionalism, your understanding of prospects and clients, and your role as communicator.