Listening Challenges & How to Do Better

BY Jessica Helinski
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Listening may seem like a natural, easy thing to do. But doing it effectively is so much more than hearing what others say. Whether it’s during a discovery call or receiving feedback from your boss, listening is vital to learning and understanding—but only if you actually listen. In an article for HBR​.org, Guy Itzchakov and Avraham N. (Avi) Kluger discuss various experiments and studies that focused on this skill and its impact on both speakers and listeners. Unsurprisingly, their research backed up that powerful listening is beneficial to both. “Our findings support existing evidence that managers who listen well are perceived as people leaders, generate more trust, instill higher job satisfaction, and increase their team’s creativity,” they write.

Challenges to overcome

If listening is so beneficial, why don’t we strive to always do it well? The authors found that people can be averse to doing it well for many reasons, including:

Loss of power. If you notice that your manager just doesn’t seem to be listening or you are tuning out a prospect, it may be because of a power struggle. “Research from our team has shown that some managers may feel that if they listen to their employees they are going to be looked upon as weak,” they write. But Itzchakov and Kluger point out that at the same time, there’s a prestige that comes with being considered a good listener. Be smart and choose the prestige. 

It takes time and effort. Salespeople are busy. Many reps may multi-​task while “listening,” or half-​halfheartedly paying attention while thinking about how to reply. But these are mistakes because powerful listening is truly worth the investment of your time. Investing now will reap benefits down the road.

Fear of change. While some reps embrace change, most are wary about it. Have you ever found yourself being asked to adjust your sales process? Or have you received pushback from a prospect about a particular detail? In these situations, you may be hesitant to really listen because what you are hearing is different. “High-​quality listening can be risky because it entails entering a speaker’s perspective without trying to make judgments,” according to the article. “This process could potentially change the listener’s attitudes and perceptions.” But embrace this vulnerability, and you can be blown away by a different perspective or suggestion.

Listening is like a muscle

The authors liken this skill to a muscle, something that needs practiced, worked on, flexed, and trained with effort and persistence. Here are a few of their suggestions to hone this valuable skill:

  • Give your attention or don’t bother. When you listen, give 100% of your attention. Don’t check your phone, file through papers, or let your thoughts wander. Reinforce this and assure the speaker you’re genuinely hearing them through body language.
  • Don’t interrupt. This is self-​explanatory. Resist the urge to jump in while the other person is talking, not matter how important you think your words are. This allows you to fully engage in listening and show respect for the speaker.
  • Do not judge or evaluate. Don’t let your thinking run away due to efforts to immediately interpret everything. As the authors explain, “If you notice that you lost track of the conversation due to your judgments, apologize to the speaker that your mind was distracted, and ask them to repeat. Do not pretend to listen.”

For even more insight into the importance of this soft skill, as well as more tips on doing it well, check out these other Media Sales Today posts.

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