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Active Listening Techniques


S: How do I listen to a customer to hear exactly what he says, not what I had in mind?


T: Why do people misunderstand each other? There are several reasons for that. 


Firstly, every word has many meanings. Different people perceive the same words differently. There is such an old joke which illustrates this: 


The construction team leader was hospitalized with a serious injury. It turns out that he worked in tandem with a beginner. He took a hammer to hit the metal structure and said to his companion, “Hit the rib, as hard as you can!” And a sledgehammer hit his ribs...


Secondly, people have a different understanding of what they are told. Any somewhat complicated story is presented in the head in the form of a “network” of interconnected events. Our speech, both oral and written, is a “thread,” a sequence of words and phrases. In the listener’s head this “thread-like” story should again fit in the form of a “network.” Could you guarantee that the network in the head of the listener will be the same as that of the narrator?


Here is an example of such a misunderstanding [E. Volodarsky, Penal Battalion (in Russian, Эдуард Володарский, Штрафбат)]:


Around the box, soldiers sat and listened, with bated breath and mouth open, to a thin man in an unbelted tunic enthusiastically telling the story:

- He, therefore, dragged this old man into his cell, and he dressed in his rags and pretended to be dead. Well, the guard comes in, sees, the old man died. Guards stuffed him into a bag, tied and thrown from the wall into the sea. He, then, with a knife cut the bag, surfaced and went to the shore. Well, in prison, of course, they seized that the count had outwitted them and escaped. But it’s too late – he’s gone! And the count gets to the coastal village, builds a small boat there and floats on the map to another island.


- What map? - someone asks.


- Well, I told you, the old man drew a map for him of the island where the treasures were hidden, forgot that?


- Ah, well, you should’ve said that...


- But what have I said?


- So, you didn’t say that he took this map with him.


- Is it that hard to figure it out for yourself? - the storyteller began to boil.


Thirdly, people do not always hear everything that was said, rather only what they expect to hear. Another old joke:


A man says to a girl in a bus:

- Honey, may I sit here?


She answers:


- So, if I am a honey, it means a bee, a bee has a sting, a sting is evil, an evil is a dog, a dog is a bitch. People, what’s going on? He called me a whore!


These mechanisms of mutual misunderstanding are especially “efficient” in stressful situations. Sales belong to this category, right?

Failure to close the deal is an inevitable result of misunderstanding between seller and buyer. What could be done? You need to check from time to time if you understand the person you are talking with correctly. There are effective tools for active listening. They clarify ambiguities and eliminate errors in the perception of what was said.

Nikolai Rysyov describes 4 techniques of active listening.

All these techniques are useful in any communication, they help to avoid an unpleasant turn of the conversation usually caused by mutual misunderstanding. They are vital for win-win sales built on the understanding and mutual respect of the seller and the buyer.


The success of the application of algorithms and tools for win-win sales depends on how much the seller and the buyer understand each other. During the sale, the seller from time to time takes on the role of a facilitator helping the buyer find how to avoid the troubles that he fears. A mistake in understanding what the buyer said leads to erroneous results which means that it interferes with closing.

Verification of what exactly the buyer said and had in mind should be carried out regularly, but, of course, not at every step. Everything in moderation.

Types of buyers

S: What types should we categorize the buyers into?


T: There are many types of buyers. But from the point of view of win-win sales we use three categories:

  1. The buyer worth dealing with, even if closing takes long. Your product really helps this buyer improve his business. He will use your product for a long time and buy it.

  2. The buyer you should not deal with. He is the one who cannot benefit from your product. For example, his business is falling down and he cannot find the strength and energy to stop this decline.

  3. The buyer you should not deal with at any cost. He is the one who does not like to pay, who occasionally commits meanness, and the like.


More often than not, it’s difficult to recognize at once what type of customer you are dealing with. Sometimes it helps if you study the buyer before the meeting. This approach allows you to cut off at least some of the buyers you should not deal with. But only a portion of those.


We have to apply the principle of “presumption of buyer’s value”. According to this principle, any buyer is valuable, you should deal with him until he has proved the opposite. A risky position, but any other is only worse.


With each buyer, you need to start working as if s/he is a valuable one. If it turns out that your product cannot help this buyer, that the benefits of your product are not important to him/her, leave this person alone. You cannot overcome his situation. Do not try to save every business you meet, your task is more modest -- sell your goods.


What to do if you run into a buyer that you shouldn’t deal with at any cost? Cut and run. How to recognize him? This is, probably, very difficult.


The swindler was asked, “Why did you deceive these kind and gullible people?” He answered, “Because the others would simply not believe me.”


Alas, usually such a buyer does not manifest himself immediately, rather somewhat later, when there is already a lot at stake. In such a situation, do not waste your energy to recover the losses. It is better to write off losses and sever all relations with this buyer.

In late 90’s, I met a CEO of medium-sized company that produced various parts. I asked him if he is supplying to the Big Three. He answered, “You know, before dealing with any customer, I find out whether they are willing to pay. These aren’t.”

In general, the size or inflated PR of the buyer's company is not a reason to believe that they are willing to pay for supplies or services. So be very careful.


Question Designing Technique | 13 Dialogues on Win-Win SalesDialogue 9. Offer

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