If you’ve read my book, or seen past posts in this blog, you know I believe that in sales meetings, you should be listening 50% - 80% of the time. Some experts think the percentage should be even higher. In the book Endless Referrals , Bob Burg says that when you go to a networking meeting, you should listen 99% of the time!
Does that mean that most professional sales people are experts at listening? Not according to sales guru Linda Richardson. In her book Stop telling, start selling: How to use customer-focused dialogue to close sales, she says that in a typical sales seminar of about 15 participants, only one or two participants describe themselves as good listeners (page 185). “Sometimes no one does,” she adds. “Then we ask the few who do to come forth to tell us how they became good listeners. They say they work at it.”
Listening is one of the six key components of dialogue described in Richardson’s book, along with Relating, Presence, Questioning, Positioning and Checking. Chapter 10 provides many tips for how to get better at it, including good eye contact, meaningful body language, checking, and silence.
Eye contact would seem pretty obvious, but when you take notes during a meeting, as lawyers often do, it’s easy to bury your head. You need to remember to keep looking up to check whether the client is engaged.
Body language, like verbal language, is important not just when you are listening, but also when you are speaking. You can send a signal of support by smiling and nodding when a client talks, and you can pick up a client’s reaction to what you’re saying by the look on their face, the way they cover their mouth or move their hands. Richardson goes so far as to say that when a client’s fingertips are “touching in a steeplelike fashion” (p. 187), it’s a sign that the client is an authority on the subject under discussion so it’s vital to avoid contradicting her. My academic colleagues who study non-verbal behavior would squirm at such a broad generalization, but I think they would agree that when you monitor body language, your gut instincts will be right most of the time.
Silence is an interesting tool, and using it strategically is vital. Check on how your client is receiving your information to increase the value of the dialogue, either by noting the client’s body language, or asking directly if the client has any questions. A careful listener will pick up key words during a dialogue, words that Richardson says “light up in [clients’] eyes and voices.” If the client talks about his company’s systems, it’s important that his lawyer use that same word – systems – rather than substituting another word like products.
When it comes to interrupting, Richardson’s advice is simple: Don’t do it. Waiting for a signal that the client is done before you talk isn’t easy, especially if you feel them drifting away from the point, but the client “has the right of way” in the dialogue.
Like most of the lawyers I meet, I find listening difficult. Richardson put her finger on my core problem, when she noted that it, “It’s hard to let your [client] talk 50 percent of the time if you believe you have to be 100 percent right” (page 189). I know that applies to me. How about you?