To Listen Well is to Be Like Water


picture of water


I have dedicated 2015 to improving one skill: Listening. I wrote, The Only Resolution You Need for 2015 on December 10, 2014. During 2015, I plan 20 essays on listening skills and this is the first in that series. Great listening is the skill that separates the great from the good, especially in sales. So if you seek greatness, advance your listening skills.

As a lifetime practicing martial artist, I find myself constantly using lessons from various martial arts to help me in the world of work. I have practiced American Kenpo Karate, Judo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Kickboxing and Systema, the Russian Martial Art in gyms, the outdoors and dojos. And I have studied many books on the martial arts including works like, The Book of Five Rings, The Demon’s Sermon on the Martial Arts and of course, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do. One of the most common themes of martial arts is the silencing of yourself. Martial arts are fundamentally defensive and often arose out of a time when oppressed populations weren’t allowed to have weapons. Hence, the bare fists of karate (which literally means “empty hand”).

To defend yourself, you have to not have stress yourself. You need to be relaxed. You need to be empty. You need to be silent. In that way, you can feel and sense others and be prepared for anything without being “blocked” by your own thoughts and senses. If you are tense or anticipating or thinking about what you will do, you are much more likely to be hit by an opponent. And so martial artists meditate and learn to breathe and be open. Or, as Bruce Lee said, “Be Like Water.” When you are like water, you are prepared to take whatever shape you need and become what you need to become.

Suppose you are on a sales call and meeting with a prospect. Imagine you come with, “I want to sell you this and that and here is why it is right for you and here is why you should do it now.” How does that work? You talk. If you approach your prospect in this way you are coming “sword drawn” as it were. People try to sell me like that every day via email, voice messages, phone calls – you name it. And if you are a buyer, what do you do when someone comes at you like that? Shield up! Right? As a buyer you have put me on the defensive and we are already fighting as it were. Remember, I am the one that bought the very product or service you are challenging in many cases. You are telling me why I made a bad decision last time.

Now suppose you come with questions. You come like water. You are prepared but not presuming why your service or product might be needed. Suppose you are selling a service. You wouldn’t be there or on the phone unless you thought your service would benefit the prospect and if they need it they are probably already buying from someone else. So what is a good question? Not – tell me about your company. Not – how do you like your existing service. How about, “If you could change one thing about your existing service what would it be?” Your goal is to elicit some state of dissatisfaction from your prospect that leads to an opening for you. Operating in this manner, you are letting me, the buyer, lead. I am going to feel more receptive if it is my idea. When you push your idea, you make me or your prospect defensive. Selling is a martial art of sorts. In martial arts, we are always looking, patiently, for openings.

If and when you find the right opening – and this takes practice – you then have to be empty and listen. You have to be so empty that you won’t even have to take a note. You will concentrate so hard at listening that you will listen and remember. And then your training will connect the features and benefits of your product or service with the prospect’s stated dissatisfaction. This is a key reason you need to be so intensely trained on the features and benefits of your product or service. If you are trained, you will introduce these benefits naturally. You will be leading, but your prospect will feel like they are leading. Behaving in this way, your prospect will feel like they are teaching you and you will be feeling like a student as you sell.

Don’t come into a sales call with your sword drawn. Come in empty handed; come in formless and shapeless, ready to listen with complete openness until the opportunity to apply your training on your product or service comes. At all times, if you listen hard enough, you will remember all. Don’t rush and don’t jump the gun. Be patient and be like water to succeed on that next sales call.

By | 2015-02-26T14:23:54+00:00 February 26th, 2015|career advice, creativity in the workplace, Getting to Next, listening|