[quote_box_center]“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway[/quote_box_center]

There are two types of passive listener – reverent and irreverent. The former, a more respectful, non-reactive hearing, is acceptable at a cinema, lecture or theatre where, beyond participating in collective applause, a personal response is not expected. The latter, the by far more common type, is subdivided into two subcategories – the Wandering Mind and the Noise Catcher.

When listening with a passive Wandering Mind, you’re paying only sporadic, unfocused attention to the speaker and allowing your mind to meander away on mental errands. Where are you going to have lunch? Your back is aching. How can you escape this talking head? While the speaker drones on, you’re distracted by your cell phone or eavesdropping on a nearby conversation. While impatiently awaiting the first opportunity to escape or break into what is essentially a monologue, you’re already composing a response to your fragmented understanding of what’s being said before they even finish.

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Noise Catchers, even worse passive listeners, absently hear few of the words spoken and aren’t even close to comprehending the underlying meaning. In such cases, you’re not present. There’s no connection whatsoever. Because you fail to focus on the continuity of the communication, you miss the real or implied message. You respond with general comments, if at all, and gamble that your replies make sense. You smile, nod and more or less tune out. You’re disrespectfully disengaged.

If you want to encourage someone to honestly express themselves, to be absorbed in the buying or selling process, to truly get to the heart of a matter (and you enjoy a good conversation), being an Active Engager is far more productive. While your client is talking, pay undivided attention with appropriate eye contact and body gestures. Put down your pen or personal communication device and quietly focus exclusively on them. Listen to what they’re saying and how they’re saying it.

Sense the nuance, the feeling behind the words. Observe their body language, their gestures. Don’t let their quirks, mannerisms, speech patterns, personality or physical appearance interfere with listening. Listen for the true intent of the message. Nod occasionally and maintain a body posture to show interest and understanding.

Resist judging prematurely and mentally formulating a reply or interjecting until they’ve finished articulating their thoughts. Why? Because your response may change before they finish their monologue. Certainly, be aware of your thoughts and feelings as they manifest, but resist the urge to interrupt to express them.

When you detect a pause in their monologue, and not merely when they break briefly to breathe, seek necessary clarification. Sensitive questions bespeak sincere respect and caring interest. After they’re finished making their point – and you might have to ask repeatedly if they are – for further clarification, summarize what they said and paraphrase it back to them.

To be an effective listener, you must concentrate. Respectful, considerate, focused, active engagement tends to increase rapport. You might even learn something of value about them. What they say is obviously important to them. If you care, it should be to you too. After you’ve answered their questions and provided the information they need to make a decision, be quiet. Stop talking and listen to their replies. And when you get the cue, when the time is right, trial close them. Now, that’s salesmanship.

For obvious reasons, this technique won’t be as effective with email or texting. On the phone is slightly better, but it’s still not as powerful as face to face.

With recurrent and persistent practice, this valuable skill will eventually become habit. Remember that giving appropriate feedback, including sending both verbal and non-verbal signals, is a large part of the process. Whether your client consciously realizes it, if you’re a Wandering Mind or Noise Catcher, the usual consequence is they’ll feel unimportant because you’re essentially ignoring them. Passive listening does not demonstrate the respect they deserve. As no doubt you can imagine, an Active Engager usually generates quite a different feeling – one of trust and respect.

I guess it’s obvious that I equate a good salesperson with being a good listener. Hear what people say and don’t say and you’ll be better equipped to present acceptable solutions, handle objections, present logical arguments and fulfill your fiducial responsibility. When the dust settles, they’ll be grateful for your thoughtful guidance. Provided their decision was in their best interests, they won’t feel they’ve been pressured. With professional attention to detail and sensitivity to their feelings, it will be obvious you honourably put their interests ahead of your own. And since you courageously, considerately and attentively listened to them, you become a hero.

[quote_box_center]“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” – Winston Churchill[/quote_box_center]


  1. Excellent article, Ross.
    One of the biggest reasons why real estate agents (and other sales people) don’t listen well is that, while the prospect is talking, the agent is desperately think about what they can say next.
    One of the benefits of memorizing and rehearsing key phrases and key value-added points about one’s marketing strategy is it affords one the confidence to actually listen and be fully focused on the words and meaning of what the listing prospect is saying.
    That is a huge advantage.


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