Listening is something we all do every day. Whether you listen to a podcast on your way to work, listen to the newest music on the radio, or listen to your boss explain a new procedure in the office, you are gathering information through listening. Listening well is the best way to ensure you are getting the correct information and setting yourself up for success. While listening is an important part of everyday life, it is also a skill that is particularly essential in business and sales.
When you work in a client-facing sales position, you are regularly interacting with new and returning clients. They expect you to be available for them and help them solve any problems they may have during the sales and negotiation process. If you don’t listen to your clients, you will not be able to meet their needs. Active listening is a great skill you can develop to help with client interactions and negotiations.
The Basics of Active Listening
Listening seems like a simple activity, but if you are not actively listening, then you run the risk of not fully hearing or understanding what the other person in your conversation is trying to communicate to you. Active listening ensures you are fully engaged with the person you are speaking to, that you can communicate back to them what they need, and they can do the same with you. It can be easy to fall into the habit of only listening for words or phrases in conversation that tie into your next need or idea. However, that is not active listening, and it can harm your client relationships.
When working with clients, it is important to actively listen so that you understand all of their needs rather than just the things that will make your role easier. Following a simple framework can make active listening much more straightforward:
- Be aware of your client’s full needs. This is the aspect of active listening that involves you being aware of everything your client is saying and doing. Pay attention to everything they share with you, what tone of voice they are using, and their body language. When you are attentive to their whole person while they are sharing, it makes meeting their needs much easier and helps you build a connection with them.
- Confirm you understand their needs. This is an important way to help your clients know you have been listening to them and that you are more interested in meeting their needs than simply making a sale. After they have shared with you, it is a good idea to paraphrase back what you heard so that you can be sure you understood what they said. If they tell you that you misunderstood or did not hear something, you have the opportunity to ask them to repeat it. Again, the aim is to make sure they know you want to understand what they require and how you can help.
- Clarify the extent of their needs. When you are sure you fully understand the initial needs they communicated, you have an opportunity to ask some open-ended questions that allow them to share a more in-depth view. Make sure these questions do not just lead them toward a sale. Rather, give them a chance to share more about their goals and plans as well.
Using these skills for active listening in a sales or negotiation position will help you to build better relationships with your clients. The skills you learn from active listening also strengthen your own emotional intelligence. Strong emotional intelligence and understanding of active listening skills can make your negotiations simpler.
How Active Listening Helps With Negotiation
Engaging with emotions is something that has not been a significant part of business in the past. Many people assume that emotions will only make negotiations more difficult because they may cloud an individual’s judgment. This has been shown to not be the case in recent studies. Focusing on positive emotions can significantly improve negotiations.
According to a 2009 work by Shapiro, there are two major ways that positive emotions can impact and improve negotiations. First, being aware of emotions also helps you to be aware of the needs and interests of another person. Second, emotions allow you to communicate how you want to be treated, as well as important information about yourself and your work. Keeping these things in mind as you practice active listening with your clients can help your negotiations be more successful. Your clients will see that you are genuinely interested in helping them achieve their goals rather than simply making a sale.
Ways to Become an Active Listener With Clients
There are plenty of strategies that can help you develop your active listening skills. One of the most important aspects of active listening is being aware and engaged with whomever you are speaking to. The following tips and tricks will help you become a better active listener so that you can understand your clients and improve your negotiations:
- Pay attention to body language. If you are speaking with someone face to face, their body language can be a key indicator of how they are feeling. If they seem tense or cannot make eye contact, they may be stressed or unhappy with how the conversation is going. That is a signal to check in or steer the conversation in a different direction. It is important to pay attention to your own body language as well. Try to maintain a posture that is as open and welcoming as possible to help your client feel more comfortable.
- Set clear intentions. This is something you can do at the very start of every conversation with a client. As you begin your meeting, set a clear plan for what will be discussed. This ensures both parties can be fully prepared for the conversation, any major needs can be addressed, and neither person feels like their time was wasted.
- Make connections in conversation. The clients you speak with want to know that you are hearing them and are interested in what they are sharing. One of the best ways to do this is by making connections between different concepts during the conversation. If they share a specific need, mention a concept from your work that could help meet that need. This shows them that you are an expert in your field who is qualified to help them, and it indicates you are genuinely invested in helping them achieve their desired goals.
- Offer opportunities, not judgment. When you are speaking with clients, you will not always agree with the choices they are making. They may choose a path or a product that will not serve their needs well, so you will want to help them avoid that. While that desire to help is understandable, be careful not to judge their choices. Instead, try to understand how they reached that decision. Once you can determine what their reasoning is, discuss other opportunities that may be a better fit.
Active listening skills are important in nearly every aspect of life, but they can be particularly effective tools for negotiators.
How to Be a Better Negotiator With Active Listening
Negotiation is an essential part of nearly any business, from sales to marketing. You want to ensure you have the skills and knowledge in place to make your negotiations successful. Here are a few ways active listening can improve your negotiation skills:
- You can have more awareness of client needs.
- Stronger emotional connections with clients build trust.
- Self-awareness helps you create an open and welcoming atmosphere.
- A more complete understanding of client needs means you can offer better opportunities.
These benefits of active listening, along with many others, can make you a master negotiator. Your clients’ needs are met, and you achieve your own goals.
Challenges to Active Listening
While active listening is a crucial skill to have in the business and sales world, it is not always an easy thing to do. Distractions and frustrations can often come into play that keep you from being an effective active listener.
Some of the most common challenges to active listening are:
- When you are stressed, it can be difficult to calm your mind enough to be an effective active listener. Your attention may be on other projects, personal matters, or challenges you are facing in your business. These things can all distract you and keep you from being engaged in conversations with your clients, which may cause you to not listen well.
- Facing a strict deadline for a project or a sales goal can make active listening difficult. Rather than fully listening to your client and what they require, you may be more focused on achieving your own goals. This may mean that instead of offering opportunities to ensure your client’s needs are met, you are primarily focused on making a sale.
- Difficult clients. Not every client you work with will be easy to get along with. Some clients can be difficult, either in a single conversation or generally. Speaking with difficult clients can lead to additional stress and frustration for you. If you are frustrated with a difficult client, it can be tougher to focus on their needs and help them achieve their goals.
- Despite your best efforts, you are likely not able to effectively communicate all the time. There will be instances when miscommunications happen, either from you or from your client. These situations can be very frustrating. If you or your client get derailed by a miscommunication, you may not be able to remain fully engaged in the conversation, which makes active listening impossible.
Overcoming these challenges and being intentional about your active listening can help lead to more successful negotiations.
Overcoming Challenges to Be an Active Listener
Regardless of how intentional you are about active listening, challenges will arise. Being able to anticipate these challenges and having strategies to combat them will be invaluable to help you succeed. For example, if you know you get stressed during certain times, particularly if deadlines are approaching, work to schedule meetings with clients during easier times. When you are dealing with a particularly difficult client, remind yourself that their frustration is likely not directed at you personally but rather a frustration with a current circumstance. During a conversation that has been negatively influenced by a miscommunication, take a moment to pause and reset so that you can get back on track and help your client reach their goals.
You will not be a perfect active listener overnight, and there will always be challenges. Regardless of the challenges, though, it is worthwhile to invest time and energy into developing your active listening skills. These skills will help you engage with clients better, anticipate their needs, and become a master negotiator. Strong negotiation skills, gained through active listening and other practices, are an essential part of successful sales. Trust the team at Shapiro Negotiations Institute for all of your negotiations training.