By Neil Phillips.

We were coaching a leadership group recently, and the central topic was about getting their teams to be better listeners.  You might call it empathic listening, active listening, or heart-centered listening, but the core of all of those is precisely where we were trying to focus. The essential lesson is a simple one: the business relationship you build depends on you listening to people as people and not as the followers or purchasers you want them to be. While we all know and engage in the behaviors, we seldom put it together in a list. As a group, we discussed seven concepts that they wanted their teams to know.

Additionally, these are seven habits they wanted to model and own.  Here they are:

  1. Be physically available. Hold yourself nonverbally open and attentive. Don’t forget to nod and smile.
  2. Be mentally open. Engage in minimal interruptions while staying focused on the conversation.
  3. Use door openers like “You sound excited! I love your enthusiasm. What’s going on?”
  4. Be verbally extending. Ask for more details.
  5. When you hear a metaphor being used, keep it going. “I am so tired of just being another player on the team.” “I understand. You want to be the captain.”
  6. Be verbally summarizing. Paraphrase.
  7. Be verbally shaping. Reframe the conversation. (Think about the 50% glass—is it half empty or half full?)
    • “I tried weight control pills before. It didn’t work.”
    • “Are you saying the supplements weren’t right for you?”
    • “Yeah. They may work for some people, but I think my G.I. system is more sensitive.”
    • “So the supplements worked, you just needed better direction on which ones.”
    • “I guess you could say that.”

This is not complex. We do this stuff all the time when we are in conversational mode. The difference is that we seldom do this when we are in a training or selling mode. We know the answers even before we hear what is said, and that leads us to misunderstand what is being said.

One fundamental problem that we extensively discussed was how to be a mindful listener on the telephone.  You are so busy that you get distracted and try to read emails, watch children, and get ready to leave AT THE SAME TIME as you are trying to have a phone conversation.  You know it doesn’t work.  What can you do?  The training group wanted some suggestions to use for themselves, and as coaching thought starts for their team.  They discovered a simple key:  make your nonverbal communication match what you do in a face-to-face conversation.

  • Find a quiet room. One young mother took the phone to the bathroom because her children won’t interrupt her there. Just don’t use the facility.
  • Shut your computer off.
  • Put a mirror by your phone and write on it “Smile & Nod.”
  • Take notes on the conversation and only the chat.
  • Set a timer so you don’t drag on and get bored. I know it sounds too simple, but it works. When we focus, we engage, and the timer gives us an urgency to stay focused and get done.

As you might expect, the hardest solution to implement is also the most effective one:  Try to ask questions where you don’t know the answers.  You can only ask those questions if you are genuinely listening with your whole mind and heart.

In short, you can’t just say you will listen; you have to do the things to change. When you lead the way, your team will follow.

What opportunities have you found to push your listening skills upward?  How are you helping your team do the same?

Who Will Start To Improve Their Listening Now?

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