7 Listening Mistakes Reps Should Avoid Making at All Costs

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Aja Frost
Aja Frost




Although almost everyone thinks they’re a good listener, studies show that’s far from true.

Case in point: 50% of adults can’t remember the content of a 10-minute presentation mere seconds after it ends. A staggering 75% will have forgotten everything after 48 hours.

Poor listening will hold you back in any profession, but it’s especially detrimental in sales. After all, if you’re only listening to prospects with one ear, there’s no way you can develop the best solution for their needs.

Ready to find out where your listening skills could be improved? Read on for the seven most harmful mistakes.

1) Overusing Affirmative Words

Do you demonstrate that you’re listening with words like “uh-huh,” “totally,” “yeah,” “right” and “okay”? 

If so, beware. These filler phrases drive some people crazy -- after all, it’s hard to stay focused when you’re listening to a soundtrack of “yeps.”

These phrases also betray your inattention if the buyer hasn't actually finished their thought. If she says, “I’m really looking for -- ” and you throw in a “definitely,” it’ll look like you’re only pretending to pay attention.

There’s a simple fix: Stay quiet while the prospect talks. Giving them a thoughtful answer that clearly responds to what they just said is the best way to show that you’re engaged.

2) Focusing On What You’ll Say Next

Most of us start thinking about what we’ll say next mere seconds after the other person starts talking. But when you find yourself going down this path, put on the mental brakes.

The more mental energy you spend mulling over your reply, the less effective it’ll be. Why? A great response connects to the end of the prospect’s thought -- not the beginning.

So unless you’re fully focused from start to finish, you won’t be able to deliver a reply that builds well off theirs.

3) Finishing Their Thoughts

You might finish the prospect's sentences or jump in when they lose their train of thought to show them you're on the same page. However, this strategy can easily backfire: If you’re completely off base, it’ll make you appear less in sync.

You’ll also seem impatient. Good luck having a productive conversation with someone who feels like you’re bored or frustrated with their pace!

For these reasons, resist the urge to interrupt -- even when you’re 99% sure you know what the speaker’s going to say.

4) Mentally Passing Judgment

Be honest: How often have you silently judged a prospect for making a bad business decision or not knowing something?

Sure, it might seem harmless to criticize the prospect in your head. But if you don’t respect him, it’ll seep into your real-life interactions with him -- and he definitely won’t want to work with you.

Plus, focusing on someone’s shortcomings makes it far harder to respond with empathy. 

Next time you’re tempted to judge a prospect, remember that you have more expertise in this specific field than h does -- and be grateful for that. If you didn’t know more, he wouldn’t need your help. 

5) Using Your Computer for Notes

Taking notes while you listen is a great strategy: You can jot down key info, keep track of your upcoming points, and prove that you’re engaged.

But if the prospect can see or hear you typing, they might assume you’re answering emails or messaging your coworkers instead of paying attention. You'll look less engaged, not more. 

To let the other person know what you’re doing, give them verbal signals like, “Hold on, I’m writing that down … ” or “Give me a sec, adding that to my notes … ” You can also mute the phone when your prospect’s speaking to cut out any background noise.

6) Using the Wrong Body Language

Your body language can make or break a conversation. Imagine that you were yawning, staringoff into space, or tapping your feet during your meeting with the prospect. Even if your replies were spot on, all they'll remember is that you seemed checked out.

To give the right impression, lean slightly toward your prospect, nod your head in agreement, make plenty of eye contact, and stay relatively still (i.e., no fidgeting).

You might think you’re off the hook for phone calls. However, your body language doesn’t just influence how others perceive you -- it also shapes how you feel. The buyer might not be able to see you sitting up straight, but they’ll notice you seem more focused on the conversation.

7) Focusing On the Details, Not the Big Picture

If you’re detail-oriented, you might find yourself getting hung up on the small things during conversations and consequently missing the bigger picture.

Suppose the prospect is describing their lead gen strategy. Their efforts aren’t panning out. Unfortunately, you can barely focus on their results, since you’re still dwelling on a minor detail they mentioned two minutes ago. It would’ve been a great opportunity to discuss your lead gen services … if only you’d been paying attention.

To kick this habit, write down whatever’s distracting you as soon as you notice it happening. With the thought out of your head, focusing on the high-level info will be easier.

Hearing your prospects is one thing -- listening to them is another. Once you’ve stopped making these seven mistakes, however, you’ll find it much easier to absorb what they’re saying.

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