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Are You Truly Listening?

Active listening and how you can use it to improve your bottom-line sales results.

No matter what you’re selling — whether it be the latest model vehicle from the floor, a VSC from a full menu of F&I options in the box or just trying to get the latest “trade-in” junker off the lot, listening to your customer is of vital importance. In fact, just listening is not nearly enough. If you want to get the maximum from your sales efforts, you need to become an “Active Listener.”

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While definitions of an Active Listener vary, most can be drilled down to not just hearing the words that are being spoken but becoming an active participant to understand the actual message that someone is trying to get across. Sounds simple, but as a point in fact, it’s quite complex. But with practice, active listening can become second nature and will benefit you not only in sales, but also in other areas of your professional and personal life.

Below are key attributes of an Active Listener:

1. Distraction

An Active Listener will not allow themselves to be distracted and therefore will make a conscious effort to refrain from fidgeting, looking at a watch or phone, or doodling.

2. Positive Reinforcement

Although positive verbal reinforcement is typically viewed as a strong signal of attentiveness, proceed with caution. Positive reinforcement should be used sparingly, so as not to distract from what is being said or place unnecessary emphasis on only part of the message. Further, casual and frequent use of words and phrases such as: “very good,” “yes” or “indeed” can become irritating. It is better to elaborate on the speaker’s point and explain why you agree.

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3. Remember Key Points

The human mind is notoriously bad at remembering details, especially for any length of time. And some of us are far worse at it than others. However, remembering a few key points, or even the name of the speaker, helps to reinforce that the messages sent have been received and understood — i.e. your listening has been successful.

Remembering details, ideas and concepts from previous conversations proves that attention was kept and is likely to encourage the speaker to continue. During longer exchanges it may be appropriate to make very brief notes to act as a memory jog when questioning or clarifying later.

4. Questioning

The Active Listener demonstrates that they have been paying attention by asking relevant questions and/or making statements that build or help to clarify what the speaker has said. By asking relevant questions, the listener reinforces that they have an interest in what the speaker has been saying.

5. Reflection

Reflection is closely repeating or paraphrasing what the speaker has said in order to show comprehension. Reflection is a powerful skill of the Active Listener that reinforces the message of the speaker and demonstrates a true understanding of the topic.

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6. Clarification

Clarification requires asking questions of the speaker to ensure that the correct message has been received and typically involves the use of open questions that enable the speaker to expand on certain points as necessary.

7. Summarization

At the conclusion of the conversation, the Active Listener repeats a summary of what has been said in their own words. Take the main points of the received message and reiterate them in a logical and clear way, giving the speaker a chance to correct if necessary and ensure the proper message was received.

As outlined above, there is a great deal more to active listening than just hearing what’s being said. You must participate by engaging, responding, reflecting, and summarizing the key messages you’ve just heard. It’s not particularly easy. And it’s not typically a talent that comes naturally. It takes effort and practice. But once you’ve mastered the tools, becoming an Active Listener is an invaluable communication skill that is sure to pay dividends throughout your professional career.

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