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Why Is Listening The Essential Communication Skill That People Forget?

If communication skills isn’t the most sought after skill in personal development, it’s not far away.

Yet when you look at what training is available out there, how much of it focuses on how to deliver your message? You’ll see “proven” ways of engaging your audience, of getting the tome right … and let’s not forget body language … oh, how could we?

So let’s take an example to show why taking this approach is like building a castle on foundations of sand. We’re going to look at Sam, who’s a great salesperson, working in a prestige auto showroom, and uses personality and energy to motivate people to buy.

One day, a young couple enter the showroom, and are looking around a little uncertainly.  Sam approaches them, smart, well-groomed and with a warm, welcoming smile. “Hey,” Sam says, making eye contact with each of them in turn. “I’m Sam. How can I help you today?” 

“Well…” the man says slowly. “We’re looking for a sporty car that isn’t too small.”

This is great news for Sam. There’s a promotion running on a high end sports car with a 10% discount on the price for the next week – and commissions have been doubled.  It seems that management really want to shift these.

“In that case, let me show you something that will fit perfectly with what you want!”  They both seem to brighten at the thought, and Sam leads them over to the promotional stand.  “How about this?”

They walk around it, nodding, and looking positive. “Yes, we’ve wondered whether to go for this one before.” So Sam continues. “Well, you’re in the right place because we’re offering a 10% discount on the price at the moment, along with our usual 0% finance and free first service.”

“OK, but we’re not quite ready yet…”

They probably need a little push, so Sam pauses for effect, then adds “OK, let me think.  I can add free paint protection which will keep your car in ‘as new’ condition for a couple of years!”

They still don’t look convinced, but there’s something positive about their manner, so Sam persists, outlining the performance, and asking them for their opinion about this and that.  A good salesperson always asks questions, you see.

But they don’t bite, and after another ten minutes of well-practised questioning, Sam is forced to concede defeat. But on the rare occasions this happens, Sam will ask the final question: “What stopped you from buying today?”

“Well, as I said,” the man replies, “we won’t be in a position to buy for another couple of months…”

The mistake is obvious. Sam charmed, was positive and attentive, and asked questions. But where was the listening?  It was all one way. If Sam had listened, more would have been achieved in less time, which is a lesson for us all.

But don’t think that listening is just about hearing what people say.  There’s a whole process involved, from asking the right questions, through listening in the right way (spoiler alert: the key is Active Listening) and then to understand what’s being said – another point that’s often missed.  Of all the courses out there, one that stands out is the communication skills course from ZandaX, which not only covers all this, but it throws in body language and all the other stuff too. They’ve been around since 2015, and have a very focused portfolio of courses at pretty good prices, too.  Maybe worth a look.

Communication problems due to poor listening are well-documented – from the New York Times to the Harvard Business Review. So this article isn’t giving you anything revolutionary, but it is highlighting something that people generally aren’t aware of.

So when you’re next thinking about a communication that went wrong, especially if an argument was involved – whether it was at work, at home, or with friends – think to yourself “did I actually listen to what was being said?”  If the answer is no (and we all do this from time to time, so don’t worry!) then see if there’s a pattern, and if there is, fixing it could change the way you relate to people. And that’s something worth doing!