We were twelve people from four generations at lunch, tables pushed together in a local restaurant.
Bobby, tall and approaching 75 years, was entertaining the over-70 set at the far end – stories about his military service, his battlefield ear damage, his businesses, his jobs, his kids, his cameras, his trips to Bangkok and other cities in Southeast Asia – voice booming, words tumbling, moving from one story to another like a chain smoker using the last embers of one cigarette to light the next.
I listened, almost without moving except to smile, for almost 30 minutes. Stopping briefly, he laughed, looked at me, shrugged, and explained, “I can’t hear very well, so I talk a lot.”
So do we all, sometimes.
Bobby hears only a narrow range of sounds, limited by his injuries. Many of us (sellers) hear only a narrow range of “buying signals” limited by our incentive plans and goal sets. If we don’t hear “buying signals” in our narrow range… or when clients or prospects are silent… or if we’re floundering in conversation, we talk a lot, filling silence with our own voices, explaining products or offering stories about other clients, like Bobby, hoping for signs of receptivity or interest.
Bobby doesn’t ask many questions in conversation because can’t hear most answers. We can.
When all else fails, and the silence seems unbearable or the conversation too meandering, questions like “What would be helpful at this point?” or “What would you like to accomplish in the next 30 minutes?” can refocus the conversation. Or even, “It seems like the direction we’ve been headed for the last few minutes isn’t very helpful to you…. Let’s go back to the top… What are the most important two or three objectives you’re working toward? Where are you running into roadblocks or challenges?”
And, then, we listen, whether the answers fall in our narrow range or not, looking for opportunities to contribute an idea, make a referral, or provide other resources that could help.