Paying Attention is the New Black

With the average attention span shortening over the last hundred years from 20 minutes to 9 seconds, staying focused during a conversation has become more and more difficult. BBC News reported, “The addictive nature of web browsing can leave you with the attention span of nine seconds-the same as a goldfish.”

Enduring conversations where people can’t get to the point, or even answer your most simple questions without going into another 15 minute story becomes exhausting. As our attention span erodes, it is increasingly important for sales professionals to stay aware of the old truth that hearing isn’t listening.

Whether you’re conducting an interview or on a sales call, improving your active listening skills looks something like this…

Use body language to demonstrate you are listening--- Affirm the speaker with appropriate facial expressions including eye contact and affirmative head nods. Attention has become more rare, so giving someone your full attention is valuable and will be appreciated by your audience.

Avoid showing your distraction—Don’t check your phone (even quietly under the desk), read your computer screen or shuffle around your papers. These gestures make your speaker feel that you are bored, uninterested or distracted.

Ask a few clarifying questions—This will not only show that you are listening, but help you interpret what your speaker is trying to communicate. Asking for clarification ensures you leave the meeting understanding your speaker’s message, and simultaneously assures the speaker that you’re listening.

Everyone gets time to speak and listen.  Hogging all the air time is annoying. Monopolizing the conversation makes you “salesey” and downright boring. Work on making smooth transitions between listener and speaker. Roles should be shifting back and forth naturally in most conversations. When it’s your turn to be the listener, concentrate on what is being said while shutting out thoughts about what you’re going to say.

Interrupting is a bad habit. Ever have a bad case of “meeting déjà vu?” You know it’s happening when you find yourself jumping ahead of the speaker since you’ve most likely worked through similar issues hundreds of times before.  Listening becomes more difficult, because you think you know where the speaker’s thoughts are going. When you feel yourself getting antsy to interrupt, pause, take a deep breath, and let the speaker complete their thought before you jump in with a response.

Learn the Art of Paraphrasing—If you’re not in the habit of paraphrasing, it may seem awkward and even unnecessary at first because you “get it.” (C’mon, you’ve done this a million times before, you know you get it! Right? ) However, restating what the speaker has said in your own words, has proven to be an invaluable communication tool. Don’t believe it? Try it! When you take the time to restate what you’ve heard, the speaker will clarify and continue to educate you on any points that you “didn’t get.” You’ll be surprised about what they want to iterate.

Taking the time to really listen makes anyone feel heard and understood.  This is exactly the experience you want prospects and clients to have with you.  In a world full of distractions, attention has become scarce, and therefore more valuable. Give it freely to your prospects and you will become more interesting to them. Your relationships will be stronger, you’ll win more business, and make more money.