When selling, we’re concerned with doing the kind of listening that causes a prospect to feel he or she has been heard and understood. From the work of Dr. Stephen Covey, three “levels” of listening accomplish that goal. In other words, we have three progressively more difficult ways that the goal of helping a prospect to feel he has been heard can be achieved:
Level One: Repeat the key words or phrases, or any emotional words or phrases that your prospect just spoke, before you say anything else.
For example, your prospect says, “No, we don’t need design services here. We had Suzie take a PageMaker class!” So you reply: “Ah, no need! You have Suzie using PageMaker!”
If you can manage Level One, try doing Level Two listening: Paraphrase what your prospect just said, before you make your point. That means to change the words, but convey to the prospect the meaning he or she intended. “Ah! So you have design software already, and someone who’s trained in using it. I see!”
And if you can manage Level Two, try doing Level Three: Paraphrase what your prospect said and convey the emotion.
How does emotion show up in business conversations? Sometimes with a louder voice—but some people convey emotion by lowering their voices. Sometimes with hand gestures to emphasize what’s being said. Sometimes with physical movement.
To change the words, but give the meaning back to the prospect, as well as the emotional loading he put on the message (by using the same gestures, or raising or lowering your voice), is the most powerful sort of listening.