Let me start by saying that I am not perfect — in fact, I’m far from it. Anyone who knows me well will agree with that sentiment perhaps a little too wholeheartedly than I would prefer, but as I grow older, I become more comfortable accepting who I am — warts and all. That being said, few people I know would disagree that I try hard to do what I think is right and try hard to treat people with compassion and respect.
I would like to believe that a lot of who I am was instilled in me as a child, strongly due to my parents, both through their words and their deeds. They sacrificed a lot to provide me with the best education possible, and despite the financial strain they incurred, they always provided a loving and nurturing environment. I have, to this day, never seen my parents argue angrily with each other. Debate about opinions and facts was an everyday occurrence, but never attacks against each other — or other people, really.
With that backdrop, I have decided to write a series of blog articles in which I share some of the lessons I have learned over the years how to treat people well. I believe them to be valuable, but each reader will have to make that assessment for themselves. These pieces of advice are provided in no particular order, but I can honestly say that I strive to apply all of them in my everyday life as much as possible, fully knowing that I fail to live up to them more often than I would like. Like I said, I am not perfect.
Lesson #1: Listen more, talk less
I read an article on Sales Hacker recently (thank you, Google!) that cited a study they had conducted. The study found the most successful sales people were those who spoke 43 percent of the time and listened to their prospective customers 57 percent of the time. The worst performing sales people spoke about 66 percent of the time, which I’ve found, through my experience, is absolutely the case. The more we learn about a prospect’s issues and concerns, the more we can tailor a solution that actually meets or exceeds their needs. If we can’t find a solution, we should not move forward because we will both be disappointed by the outcome.
Listening more when selling is clearly helpful, but I believe this notion of listening — really listening — helps one not only understand what someone is actually saying, but helps them provide more thoughtful insights, as well.
How often have you been in a meeting with colleagues where a few people speak a lot, some people listen and, of course, some people are on their device du jour, not listening or caring much about what is going on around them? While I have participated in many of those types of meetings and sometimes lead them (ouch — not something I like to admit), I am often amazed by what ideas or thoughts come out of the mouths of the people who really listen, really think about what they want to say and really provide terrific insight. Over the years, I have found that when one of those rare people speaks, everybody listens. The talkers quiet down, the listeners strain forward to hear and the “Devicers” look up and take note as if the meeting just started. And over time, whenever those listeners choose to contribute, their contributions are listened to carefully and frequently sway the day. Be that listener as much as you can — eventually, you’ll find people will recognize you for it and admire you for your insight and thoughtfulness.
I have talked about this concept of “actually listening” and think it is worth expanding upon what I mean by that phrase for a moment. To me, it is about being an active listener versus a passive one. An active listener focuses fully on the person who is speaking, looks at them and engages with them. You can see it in their faces, in their physical attention and in how they can identify the right moment to comment or to acknowledge the receipt of their information using verbal cues.
Passive listeners are generally people who are present but whose minds are occupied by other things. I have had meetings with passive listeners many times and I know they are not actively listening because they are actively doing something else. In today’s world, that typically means texting or emailing on a device. As I have gotten older (and, as my wife will say, more crotchety), my tolerance for “Devicers” has decreased significantly. I don’t have enough time in the day to waste any of it with people who are not interested in speaking with me. Their status as one of these “Devicers” does not make them a bad person at all — it just means what I want to speak about is not priority for, and that’s okay.
So, the next time you are having a conversation, I encourage you to put your device down, look at the person who is speaking and really think about what they are saying. Ultimately, I believe you will be both be richer for it.
Learn how to foster diversity of opinion in your organization in the second installment of this series, “Treating People Well Matters, Part II.”