Is your listening style building or damaging trust?

Published on August 15, 2017 by Tony J. Hughes

I recently met Naomi Abbott who creates high-performance teams by improving the way people engage with each other. We discussed the importance of trust and the role truly listening and being fully there when you are in meetings. Here are her thoughts about the most important skill of influence... listening.

Listening is a bit like common sense, we all think we have it or do it well but in reality, we rarely question just what it is and how we stack up against the norms. Nor do we receive feedback from others as to the impact we have on them through our listening. In sales, the quality of our listening can mean the difference between securing an engagement or growing our list of lost opportunities, so it's a worthwhile topic to drill down on. 

Common ineffectual listening habits include listening to answer, listening with an expectation of what your customer will say, listening through a bias, or worst of all, pretending to listen. Most of us fall into one or more of these habits much of the time and this in part explains why a Stanford University study proved that 9 out of 10 conversations miss the mark. 

But there is a more effective and impactful way to listen – you can "listen to connect". It's one of the essential practices of the neuro-scientific framework of Conversational Intelligence® and it has a tremendous impact on relationships and performance. 

Listening to connect - rather than judge, accept of reject - takes the focus off ourselves and on to the other. It's about connecting to your customer's 'world' and exploring their world. It goes beyond listening to understand - which is more about listening to confirm what you know - and enables a more agile, emergent and deep connection with your customers.

In Conversational Intelligence, we monitor the conversational patterns that produce different neurochemicals, activating either the trust or distrust networks in our brain. Pretending to listen is one of the main conversational behaviors that produce the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol is elevated, it can shut down the thinking center of our brain and make us go into protection mode. Interestingly, so too does a focus on convincing others. No wonder the old-school style of selling by overcoming objections involved so much tension – your customers were hardwired to protect themselves against this! 

By contrast, showing genuine concern for others and stimulating discussion and curiosity are two of the conversational behaviors that produce the feel-good hormone oxytocin. This elevates our ability to collaborate, communicate and trust others. So listening to connect with your customers not only fosters connection, it actually helps them to engage their executive brain in the conversation and make the best decisions for their business. 

When Judith E. Glaser - the creator of Conversational Intelligence – started working with the global pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim, the sales force ranked 39th out of 40 major pharmaceutical companies. Clearly, that was not a great position to be in! What she observed was the traditional features-and-benefits model of selling, rife with argumentative and persuasive objection handling, and this was creating resistance amongst the doctors towards the sales reps. To resolve the issue, Judith taught the sales reps a combination of skills to achieve results including building rapport, listening without judgement, asking discovery questions and reinforcing success. These skills were centered around the concept of 'relationship before task', shifting the focus and intention of the sales reps interactions with their customers from persuasion to connection in order to build trust. Within a year of practicing this new approach, the Boehringer sales force was ranked number one – a tremendous success! 

Amongst my clients, I see a similar shift in the types of conversations sales professionals have with their customers. Once they align their intention with connection and building trust, and practice the Conversational Intelligence essentials of listening to connect and asking questions for which they have no answer, they have fewer transactional and positional conversations and more transformational conversations that reflect a true partnership with their customer. They make this shift because the science makes sense to them and because they want to operate in an empowered way and reflect an authentic presence in their profession. So, I recommend you start with experimenting with 'listening to connect' with customers you already have rapport with, and then apply it to those you've struggled to connect with. You could be delighted by the results!

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