We are in the people business, and the key to success in dealing with people is listening well.

Good listeners create a positive response in others. Poor listeners upset people, make problems worse, and create resentment. Time is wasted, opportunities are lost and relationships are damaged by the effects of poor listening.

Becoming a good listener can improve every aspect of your life, from dealing with customers, to communicating with co-workers, to your interpersonal relationships.

It's been said that we were given two ears and one mouth because it's twice as hard to listen as it is to talk.

Communication consists of four skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening. Of those four, listening is the most difficult to master.

There's a big difference between hearing and listening. Listening means paying attention and making a conscious effort to process what you hear.

When most people say they are good listeners, what they really mean is that they're good at not talking while someone else is talking. Unfortunately, instead of listening, most people are usually daydreaming or thinking about what they want to say next.

The ability to listen well is a skill that must be developed and practiced. It is one of our most important skills and it is also one of the most overlooked. They really should teach listening in school.

Roadblocks to Listening
All roadblocks to listening boil down to one word: narcissism.

We're obsessed with what we want to say and we can't wait to say it. In fact, we're so anxious for our turn to talk that we can’t concentrate on what the other person is saying, and often interrupt. This is especially prevalent during a sales call or a service call, because we're so concerned about saying the right thing.

You can't think and listen at the same time, so thinking about your opinions on what's being said instead of concentrating on what is actually being said will interfere with listening.

You can't speak and listen at the same time, so interrupting and talking over others is a problem.

Deciding what people are going to say and starting to compose your response before they finish speaking is undoubtedly what’s happening when people complain that we didn't exactly answer the question they asked.

Improving Your Listening Skills
My listening skills improved the day after I sat down and wrote out the procedure I follow when I run a call. I wrote everything from the greeting at the front door, to my transitions from topic to topic, to how I quoted the price, closed, and handled objections. This freed my mind up so I didn't have to think about what I wanted to say next.

Here are a dozen tips to improve listening skills:

  1. Make a conscious effort to listen
  2. Try to understand the other person's point of view, even if you disagree with it
  3. Listen for the speaker's important points
  4. Try to understand the speaker's feelings
  5. Listen with an open mind
  6. Listen even if the other person is not interesting
  7. Listen even if what the other person is saying is erroneous
  8. Listen even if you don't like or agree with what the other person is saying
  9. Look directly at the person speaking
  10. Be patient and let the other person complete their sentences
  11. Ask questions to be sure you understand the speaker
  12. Do not allow distractions to bother you.

Listening and salesmanship
You don't make sales by talking. You make sales by listening.

We talk ourselves out of more sales than we talk ourselves into.

You don't talk people into buying. You listen them into buying.

You were given two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.

Good salespeople are thoughtful, actively engaged listeners. When you become a truly good listener you learn the most wonderful thing that anyone in sales can learn, which is this: if you listen for it, people will tell you how to close them.

If you're anything like the thousands of service technicians and salespeople I've run calls with over the years, you could eliminate most of what you say during your calls and still sell as much, if not more.

On your next call, make it a point to see how little you can say and still make the sale. If something is questionable, don't say it and try to close. If they don't buy, say it and try to close again.

Charlie Greer is the creator of "Slacker's Guide to HVAC Sales on Audio CD." This series was created to help HVAC sales professionals listen better. Listen to the CDs between calls and get your presentation down so you don't have to think about what you're going to say next. For details on the series, go to www.hvacprofitboosters.com or call 800-963-HVAC (4822). E-mail Charlie at charlie@charliegreer.com.