Monday, March 9, 2015

The art of listening is essential to helping our clients. (So we've heard!)

Many of us have the desire to improve our communication skills, whether it’s interacting with people at work, fostering closer friendships, or even becoming a better communicator with family or in our relationships. And whether we read a self-help book or attend a sales training, our efforts to improve usually focus on what we have to say and how we say it.

But in reality, listening is a far more important skill than just saying the right combination of words, our body language, or even writing skills for effective communication. Yet listening seems to be a lost art, largely ignored in business, with salespeople who instead clamor to have their advertising, marketing, or sales messages heard so they can influence clients and close deals.

But at the Alfano Real Estate Group, we understand that what our clients think, want, and need is truly the root of how we can best serve them – and the reason we are here at all! So we make enhancing our listening skills a priority, something we practice and train at. It’s amazing what we learn about the wonderful people who buy and sell homes with us just by listening, with the only intent to truly understand and help them. So we wanted to share a few things we learned about good listening skills during our training.

First off, some interesting facts about the lost art of listening as the first and best communication tool:

-We listen at a rate of 125-250 words per minute,
talk at a rate of 125-175 words per minute,
and think at a rate of 1,000 – 3,000 words per minute.

-It’s estimated that we comprehend only 25% of what we listen to.

-We spend 7 out of every 10 minutes of our waking lives communicating with other people.

-In an average business day, 45% of our time is spent listening, we’re talking 30% of the time, reading 16%, and writing 9%.

-85% of our total knowledge comes from listening.

-55% of the meaning in our words is interpreted from facial expressions.
38% of meaning comes from how the words are spoken,
and only 7% of a verbal message is conveyed from the words that are actually spoken.

-Less than 2% of people have any formal education on how to listen properly.

-Our brains can only retain about seven bits of information at a time. (That’s why we have 7-digit telephone numbers!)

-Words are processed by our short term memory,
but images are logged directly in out long term memories.

-Our communication has shifted from interpersonal human speech to interpreting messages and segments of information via social media and technology.

-For instance, there are 193,000 text messages sent every second,
more than 60 billion tweets every year,
and well over 1 billion Facebook users in the world.

-A study of Fortune 100 companies found that employees send and receive an average of 1,800 messages each day via telephone, email, faxes, memos, and face-to-face.

-Great communications skills are the number one trait employers say they want in their employees.

-Conversely, a U.S. Department of Labor survey found that 46% of workers who quit their jobs did so because they felt they were not listened to and therefore unappreciated.

-According to the Harvard Business Review, the ability to communicate is the most important factor in making someone promotable.

-The average business executive spends 75% of his or her time, or 45 minutes out of every hour, communicating with others.


As you can see (or hear!), listening is a far undervalued skill, yet is the most fundamental way to effectively communicate with deep and lasting meaning. Here are some things we teach all of our agents and staff about listening, so we can all understand and serve our clients to the best of our abilities. So far, they’ve said it makes a big difference – and we’re listening!

1. Most of the research on listening is antiquated, going back to the 1970s. They taught something called “Active Listening” which really just meaning clearing your thoughts as the other person spoke, focusing, and repeating back their message for clarity. As you can tell, the field has advanced a long way since a good sales person used active listening when they said, “So what you’re telling me is, you want to buy a big house and get a good deal?”

2. Of course you’ll want to focus in on the person who is speaking, eliminating as many external distractions as possible and clearing your mind of everything but hearing and visualizing their words.

3. It’s estimated that the majority of time we listen to someone we’re actually just formulating our next verbal response in our brains. Instead, work on not formulating a response or choosing your words until they are completely done speaking.

4. It’s important to not only register in the words people are saying, but to identify the subtle variations of how they are saying things. Vocal cues like pauses, intonation, speed, and tone, as well as nonverbal, are more vital to the message they are trying to communicate than just the words.

5. Register the feelings, emotions, and energy the other person is emitting as they speak. The keys to true listening and real comprehension come from taking in all cues at once, not just the words they speak. 

6. No matter who we are, our brains go through the process of interpreting what we hear for deeper
(not just literal) meaning based the entire context of information. So we understand that it’s both vital to interpret and also an imperfect process.

7, It helps to clarify what the other person is saying by occasionally summarizing what their message is and repeating it back to them for acknowledgement or correction.

8. Once the person is finished speaking, ask a few open-ended questions based on what they just said, like “What would that mean to you?” or “Why is it you don’t want that?” You’ll be surprised how a few simple questions can lift the barriers to their true thoughts and feelings about what they’re communication.

9. We always say that we should validate what a person is saying and respect their position, not judge it for right or wrong. A customer may be factually inaccurate but that doesn’t mean their opinion doesn’t matter. It’s up to us to validate them and then present them with new information so they can update their opinion, not “make them wrong” or show we know more.

10. There is always something we can learn from communication, so we listen carefully for things we don’t know yet. Our brains tend to settle into patterns or channels of thought, which become hard to deviate from, so challenge yourself as a listener to be prepared to change your mind, consider a new perspective, and learn whatever that person has to teach you.


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