Listen, don’t just wait to speak

by BN16 Apr 2012

How long do we actually listen to another person before we start interrupting? How quickly do our own thoughts take over and we start thinking about what question to ask or what we need to say in reply even before they’ve finished speaking? Do we find ourselves interrupting the person to give our own opinion or finish their sentences before they are finished?

If this sounds like you, then you’re not listening you are just waiting to speak. As a Native American proverb says, if we keep waiting to speak rather than listening we shall remain deaf.

 Listening effectively

 Many people, especially sales people are not trained to listen effectively. Sales people often worry more about what questions they should ask than paying proper attention to how well they listen. I used to think that questioning skills were our most powerful communication tool but over the years I’ve come to realise that listening is the number one, most powerful communication tool of all. Listening is an essential part of communication and it is not the same as hearing. Being a good listener requires patience and a willingness to pay attention and understand another person, even when we don’t agree with them.

Listening effectively helps us solve problems at work or home. Listening helps us learn and see the world through the eyes of others. Listening opens our understanding and enhances our capacity for empathy and opens up possibility of potential with one another which is a primary goal of sales people and their businesses. Listening is particularly effective when disagreements arise. Effective listening can reduce the time it takes to solve problems, settle disagreements and bring back harmony and effective work flow.

However, due to all sorts of reasons we do not listen as well as would should. Dr. Piyal Walpola, a Canadian medical doctor who writes on Wisdom through Mindfulness reports that one clinical research study examined different parameters of emergency medicine residents taking a medical history. The study concluded that only 20% of patients completed their presenting complaint without interruption. In other words 80% of patients were interrupted during their initial presenting complaint. The average time to the first interruption was only 12 seconds! I wonder what the average time to interruption by a sales person in a client meeting is? Use the above ‘Active listening’ checklist as a guide.

 Improve your listening

 A sure fire way to help you improve your listening skills is to make sure to take notes, it really does make you a better listener. Another tip is to create a positive, open space in your own mind freeing yourself of any prejudices when you are listening, regardless of the other person’s initial impact on your own perceptions and judgments. It can be a challenge to let go of judgments but it can be learned and it does work.

Hopefully we all know what it feels like when we have been listened to. We feel great knowing the other person understands us. We feel a sense of connection and empathy. There is clarity and connection and we feel we can move on in a purposeful manner.


Active listening

  • Refrains from evaluating the message
  • Tries to see other’s point-of-view
  • Attention on words spoken and on the customer / person’s thoughts and feelings
  • Suspension of personal thoughts and feelings to give attention solely to the customer/ person
  • Displays empathy
  • Verbal and nonverbal cues to indicate listening
  • Takes notes
  • Use of verifying, clarifying and paraphrasing to confirm what they have heard.


 Sue Barrett is the director of Barrett, a company that specialises in sales training.