On Saturday mornings I take acting lessons with my 16-year old son. I take acting lessons to help me improve as a professional speaker; he takes acting lessons because he wants to pursue it as a career (he’s 6’2, handsome, sweet, polite, and he just learned the value of selling himself, so we are off to the races).
One of the toughest things to learn as an actor is to not “play the concept.” When you “play the concept,” you play the scene the way you imagine it in your mind instead of listening and reacting to the actor. Instead of listening and responding, you worry about your lines.
This concept reminds me of a lot of client interactions. You ask a question, and because you have asked it to so many clients on so many calls, you don’t really listen. Because you suspect you already know the answer, you wait patiently to recite your well-rehearsed line.
In acting class, the fact that you are worried about your next line is exposed. Anyone watching can tell you aren’t in the scene. In client interactions, your inability to listen and react is exposed, too.
The first thing an acting coach might tell you to do is to stop worrying about your next line. It doesn’t matter what your line is, you will have time to say it. And your next line doesn’t matter when you are engaged in a client interaction–at least not until you have really listened to what your client has to say. Listening–really listening–is an act of caring. It can be seen and it can be felt. The absence of real listening can also be seen and felt.
Forget your concept: If you want to improve your ability to listen and react in a way that generates trust stop “playing the concept.” Instead of waiting for your client to deliver their line so that you can deliver yours, focus on listening.
Listen for anomalies: Instead of listening for the lines you are expecting, listen for the anomalies. Instead of listening for the pattern you know, listen for what’s different. You know how to respond to what you hear all of the time, but what are you hearing that is new or novel? There may be something there, and it will improve your focus.
Listen for subtext: What is your client saying that isn’t said with words? What do they feel about what they are saying? What are you picking up about the politics of change?
Take your time: Slow down. Wait a few seconds before you respond. If you wait four or five seconds, your client may just start talking again. The better listener you are and the more space you make, the more you client will fill that space.
If you are being honest, how often are you rehearsing your next line when you should be listening? Do you play your concept of the client interaction instead of listening and reacting? I know there have been times that I waited (impatiently) to deliver the line I wanted to deliver, but I am more patient all the time.
Reach out and send me your thoughts, stories, and ideas. I am slow to reply to email, but I read every one, and I will reply when I am able. Forward this to anyone you believe might benefit from it, and point them to the sign up page at www.thesalesblog.com/newsletter.
Make this week’s focus listening and reacting instead of playing your concept of the sales call. I’ll see you back here next week.