In Summary

"Did you understand what she just said?"  We were taking driving directions from a young woman we'd flagged down on the outskirts of Nassau.

While we were fairly sure that she was speaking English, she spoke so fast and with an accent enough different from ours that, without her hand movements to indicate direction, we’d have ended up at the wrong end of the island. How could she say all of those words without taking at least one breath?

The short answer to the  question,  “did you understand…?” was, “no, I did not understand,” even though I was listening as intently as I could. I can’t recall anything about her face, what she was wearing, or even the corner at which she was standing. I was listening  for directions — left, right, right, left, up down, turn, around — at what felt like 100% of my attention. When she finished, I felt exhausted.

Why?  Because a typical human uses only about 25% of brain capacity when listening, which leaves 75% for other tasks. This minute of directions required 100% of my capacity — I didn’t want to miss anything — and I wasn’t used to it.

In sales calls, we experience same gap. We miss a lot of what’s said because…

1) Fixation — our prospect says something with which we disagree or something that indicates a potential need for our services. At that point, we fixate — our brains shift to developing counter arguments or formulating questions. Our listening efficiency drops to almost zero — we don’t hear anything for a few seconds or minutes.

2) Facts — Most prospects’ answers to questions are so unorganized that we can’t outline their comments in any logical manner. They’re all over the place. We’re so busy scribbling notes, trying to capture all of the facts, that  our listening efficiency falls to near zero. We miss the speakers’ messages. Many is the time that I’ve asked sales people, “what did the prospect say,” only to hear the sales reps recite a series of facts, ending with, “I’m not sure, I didn’t catch all of it.”  So, not only did they not hear the “big” messages, they missed half of the small ones, too.

3) Focus — We listen for what’s easy.  We tend to listen to points that are easy to understand and avoid points that are more difficult. We glaze over.

How to listen better?  One of the best ways is to take advantage of short pauses every two to five minutes  to summarize or confirm, either silently or in conversation. The periodic summaries or confirmations reinforce learning and understanding. When we verbalize them, we further reinforce our learning.

Summary statements can sound like: “So, John, what I’ve heard you say is X, X, X, and X, which means your costs are out of line.”  A confirmation sounds like: “You’re concerned because costs are out of line.”

Back in Nassau, I should have stopped our guide after each direction to repeat…

Her – Left at the light.

Me – Left at the light.

Her – Right at the yellow building

Me – Right at the yellow building.

…. and then I should have confirmed all of the directions again to assure that I had them. But, no….. I just nodded and smiled, faked complete comprehension, and drove off toward the sunset, wondering whether the yellow house or the blinking light came up next.

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