Listening to understand

Stephen Covey quote

Listening is one the skills we’re taught early in life.


I’ve encountered a number of situations recently in which it seems the other person wasn’t listening.


For example, my outgoing voice mail message includes my name and phone number. Despite this, a caller recently left a message for a woman named Cynthia. The message left was terse and indicated a high level of animosity between the two parties. Had the caller listened to my outgoing message, he would have known that he misdialed.


In other cases, it seems that people are doing exactly what Stephen Covey describes: listening with the intent to reply.


I stopped at auto dealership to pick up parts. A salesperson approached me in the parking lot and asked if I was there to check out the great deals on vehicles. Before I could finish uttering, “I’m here to pick up parts,” he was already asking me what kind of car I wanted to buy.


In another instance, I was shopping for headphones at a big box electronics retailer. A salesperson asked if she could help. I explained that I was looking for headphones for use during workouts, can’t wear earbuds and wanted something that was relatively inexpensive. She immediately brought me over to the Beats headphones and suggested a pair of earbuds. When I pointed out those wouldn’t work, she suggested the more traditional style—far outside my price range. I looked around some more but wound up leaving the store empty-handed.


In the first instance, there was no chance a sale was going to take place. I was there to run a simple errand.


In the second instance, the salesperson missed an opportunity to make a sale because she didn’t listen to understand my needs. Had she done so, she could have recommended a pair of headphones, not earbuds, that would have met my requirements. If she had provided good service, it would have left me more likely to shop there again for future electronics needs. Instead, I left empty-handed with little desire to shop there again.


Salespeople are trained to help show customers how their product meets a need they have. But how many salespeople are listening to understand? How many are instead listening to reply? How many potential sales are lost because salespeople are offering a one size fits solution instead of taking the time to understand the customers’ needs and offer the appropriate solution?


Active listening, a structured form of listening that focuses attention on the speaker by fully concentrating on what is said, is an easy solution. It’s used in a variety of settings like counseling, training, and conflict resolution and can be applied to other areas as well. It helps reduce the “listening to reply” problem that plagues many situations.


David Grossman has a great post about active listening. The post is geared toward leaders making sure their employees are heard and feel valued though the advice can be applied universally. It’s a brief post and well worth the read.


So, are you listening to reply or listening to understand?






I’ve been thinking about taking the plunge for a while and I’m finally doing it.


I’m finally starting my own blog.


I plan for this to be a space where I share my thoughts on  marketing, public relations, business, customer service and more. I’ll share general life events now and then too. (All work and no play makes for a dull life.)


I don’t want the conversation to be one-sided though. So please comment. Tell your story, share your experience, offer your opinion, challenge my thinking.


Please bear with me as I work on the overall look and style of the blog over the next few weeks. I don’t have all the kinks worked out just yet.


Image via See-Ming Lee on Flickr