When I was growing up, my father had an old shortwave radio. Although he didn’t use it often, I enjoyed playing around with it. There were buttons to listen to different frequencies to find radio stations in North America and overseas.
It was a magical machine. I could hear people speaking in foreign languages. And when conditions were right, I could listen to the New York Yankees, my favorite baseball team. The strongest signal was usually WOWO – “1190 on your dial”– in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which broadcast a hockey team called the Fort Wayne Komets. Imagine the excitement of an eleven-year-old kid sitting in North Carolina, listening to a hockey game being played in a faraway place like Indiana.
The radio had two round knobs, one for volume and one for tuning. The tuning knob moved a red needle back and forth across the dial. As the needle approached a station, there was a lot of static and buzzing, but I learned how to hit the sweet spot by turning the knob ever so slightly.
I thought about that old radio recently – and the challenges of tuning in to a station – when I had a conversation with Karl, who manages an ad sales team. “A lot has been written and said about listening as a sales skill,” he said, “so we should all know the basic rules: listen actively, eliminate distractions, make eye contact, and so on. That’s why we go beyond those general rules in staff meetings and talk about the little things we can do to tune in to other people.
Karl said they’ve been focusing on three small adjustments that can improve in-the-moment listening: ask one question at a time, don’t interrupt and rephrase what the other person says. Let’s take a closer look:
1. Ask one question at a time. “Because sales people get revved up for appointments – and because they are conditioned to ask questions – there is a tendency to ask a string of questions without giving the other person enough time to answer thoroughly,” Karl said. “It’s important to ask a question, listen carefully, then move on to the next question.”
2. Don’t interrupt. “This one is a matter of manners. It’s a lot like asking too many questions at once. Not everyone formulates their thoughts at the same speed. While it doesn’t make sense to let the other person drone on and on, at least look for a stopping point before jumping in.”
Or move on to Karl’s next pointer and rephrase what they’re saying.
3. Rephrase. “This is a good way to stay focused. By restating what the other person says, you show respect and force yourself to pay attention and stay in step. Plus, when they hear their own ideas stated by another person, they’re likely think of something else that is important. That’s a big help.”
Yes, sales conversations have a lot in common with that old radio. Improve your listening skills, and your ideas will get better reception.