“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway was right. Most people don’t listen. At least, not well enough. Or often enough.
My son owns and operates his own home inspection business. Here in Texas, that’s a licensed occupation requiring substantial training and certification. The other day we were chatting about all the opportunities in the trades, especially in a big market like Dallas/Ft. Worth. He’s got very solid people skills – those soft skills that present big challenges for some. We’ve both had frequent encounters with business owners in various trades, but he’s obviously running into more of them than me. During our chat, I commented that too many of these people talk too much. They’re busy with what they want to say to pay close enough attention to how the customer or prospect is reacting. He confirmed that he sees the same thing.
It’s not just a problem among the trades. It’s fairly rampant everywhere.
Questions determine our success.
Many years ago I crafted a mantra, “The quality of our questions determines the quality of our business.” The context? Salespeople who asked stupid questions because they weren’t thinking clearly enough. The result was ongoing, systemic problems that could have easily been avoided if salespeople would have just asked better questions.
Through the years I’ve continued to use that mantra because it seems to be accurate in every area of business building. It’s true in selling, negotiating, buying and any other business activity. For good reason. It’s communication. Get better at it, and it’ll help you grow as a person – and it’ll help you grow your business.
But there’s something else to it.
Curiosity and learning.
Have you noticed that the people who talk too much are never asked questions? We don’t have to ask them. We know that at the first pause they’ll run their mouth until they run out of breath. Some won’t stop even then. We’re not very interested in what these people have to say. Ironic, huh?
Then there’s the person we’d like to learn from, but they don’t dominate the conversation. Maybe that’s why we’re drawn to them.
They’ll tell us if we ask. But won’t if we don’t.
Questions give us opportunities to listen, but only if we’re being honest in how we use them. Don’t ask a question to set yourself up to talk. Ask a question to discover what you don’t know. Ask your questions to learn, understand and grow (LUG). When you narrow your focus on LUG it’ll alter how you construct questions. It’ll completely change the questions you ask, and how you go about it, too.
Curiosity and learning are drivers. And results.
Your curiosity finds satisfaction in listening to great questions answered. Your learning is expanded when you listen to answers with a motive to understand.
Pay attention to the person. Watch them carefully. Listen to them even more so. Be intentional in trying to understand the person. It’s deeper than trying to understand what they’re saying. That’s important, but understanding who they are and what they’re feeling is equally important.
When you’re selling (and at other times, too) there’s another enormous value in asking questions – which provide you an opportunity for active listening. You demonstrate that you care about the other person and what they think, and feel. How do you feel when somebody takes a genuine interest in you by asking you about your life? Exactly. Make sure you do that for others, especially your employees, prospects and customers. I’d urge you to do it with as many people as possible. Every day.
Two-Year-Olds Show Us The Way
Hang around any small child, a 2-year-old. You’ll be peppered with questions because there are many things they don’t understand. Their curiosity is off the hook. Two-year-olds have a special skill to pepper you with questions. They never hit a snag in thinking of a new one to ask. It’s the sign of a mind working to learn, understand and grow.
Don’t be pesky like a 2-year-old. Leave interrogations for the professions that require it. But be interested. Be curious. Be THAT interested and THAT curious about others and what they can show you. Be less interested in yourself.
There’s the rub. Be less interested in yourself.
That’s why listening often fails.
One, people aren’t that interested in the other person. They’re not that curious about them. Big mistake. For your growth and the growth of your business.
Foster, build and increase your curiosity. Pride and arrogance are the enemies. The people with the least amount of curiosity and interest in others are the most pompous. They know more than you. What they have to say is more important than what you have to say. Their story is more interesting than yours. Their wisdom is deeper than yours. Don’t be that guy.
Two, people don’t work at being present. More than ever it’s tough to be in the moment. Eye contact doesn’t happen nearly enough. A nanosecond attention span doesn’t help.
When you’re leaning hard into learning, understanding and growth LISTEN. Be present. Be in the moment. Don’t be distracted. Put the phone away. Put other thoughts out of your head. Look at the other person as though they’re the only important person on the planet at this moment. Because for you, they are the most important person. If they’re not, then why are you spending your time with them?
I sometimes have to work at this because I get preoccupied. For me, it’s never driven by me wanting to chime in or anything like that. It’s that my mind is elsewhere, dwelling on something else. There’s no excuse, but we’re not perfect. Notice how often the people we love the most tend to get the short end of this stick. Right?
Stop doing that. Concentrate on being in the moment. The more you practice it, the better you’ll get.
Three, people are so unpracticed they can’t pick up on the cues. When we’re talking with people there are lots of cues. Just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Many a great question has gone unasked because we didn’t pick up details of an answer. We weren’t listening closely enough to pick up on a prompt. A prompt that could have led to another, deeper understanding. If only we’d have asked the question.
Everybody wants to share their story. We mostly go through life with few people, if anybody, asking us. The only thing more frustrating than nobody asking is somebody asking, then not listening. It’s far more insulting than not asking.
As my son and I were talking about listening, especially during the sales process, we both knew that tradesmen and all other business people suffer the same malady. We desperately want people to know what we do, how we do it, and all the other stuff that we think matters to them. What we often fail to understand is that our prospects – and everybody else we encounter – is WAY more interested in themselves and what they want. They’ll tell us if we’ll just ask, shut up and listen.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!