Friday, August 7, 2009

Horrible Listening Skills

I am just finishing five days of sales training and orientation for this new job I have and one thing has become abundantly clear: most people have no idea how to listen. I sat with five different people over the past two weeks and just kind of monitored their level of listening and attentiveness and it was shocking. I know I have my moments of ill communication; those times when I just zone out or don't feel like paying attention when someone is talking to me. But over the years I've come to understand that being a really good listener is one of the most valuable traits you can ever acquire. And, knowing when to be quiet and not speak. That is also a very valuable skill and it's different than the listening skill.

Let's just analyze one of the guys I worked with this week: Tommie. Tommie is a super nice guy, very friendly and really, really naive. He hasn't traveled much, hasn't lost anything or anyone significant in his life and thinks life is just extra neat and wonderful. He is about 25 and a recent graduate from a local university. The second day I trained with Tommie, we had a few minutes to talk before the training began and we started small talking. This is not my favorite activity but Tommie is, as I stated, a very engaging and cool dude so I was up for it. He also had his cell phone in his right hand, which he kept glancing at periodically. This is kind of how it went:

P: So, you graduated in...
T: Broadcasting.
P: But you didn't want to go into that field?
T: Hold on. (Looks at cell phone, types in something, closes phone, looks at me). Wow, that training was kind of crazy yesterday. Lots of information.
P: Yeah, but it seems pretty straightforward. I think you'll like the software training next week.
T: Cool! I'm excited!
P: (I don't say anything for a minute because it's kind of his turn to ask me something. I'm pretty comfortable in complete silence with strangers which makes people think I'm weird. Actually, they are the ones who are weird. But, I digress. So, I sit).
T: Um, so, where do you go next week?
P: They are sending me to Calgary, Canada.
T: Nice! Hold on. (Looks at phone, types something, looks back at me).
P: Yesterday after we left, I think I saw you on the freeway. Were you in a silver PT Cruiser?
T: No.
P: Oh, cause it had some advertising for window washing and they guy looked exactly like you. Did you make pretty good money washing windows for the last, what did you say? Six years?
T: Yeah, it was good money but you had to be careful when the sun got too hot. It screwed up the windows. But, my partner, he paid me pretty well.
P: Hard labor, nothing like it right?
T: (Looking at his phone). What?
P: Nothing. (I now stand up and grab this huge coffee table book that's in front of us in the lobby called "Timpanogos".) My buddy, Willie Holdman, did all the photos for this book. We went to high school together. Very talented guy.
T: (Now looking out the window, gazing at...something...or nothing). Oh.
P: (Now I'm just kind of done with this whole trying to talk to him deal. And, I now begin to think that either a) I'm the worst conversationalist in the world or b) he could care less or c) he has no listening skills whatsoever.) Anyway...
T: Yeah...

Thankfully our training starts and we get to role play. Role playing is my favorite part of sales training because you get to be someone different. Just like Halloween, where you can take on some different persona for the night, in sales role play, you can be a meth addict with a trust fund, a software developer with poor people skills or a jerky mortgage broker. It's awesome. So Tommie and I get to role play. And I show no mercy to this guy. I am the jerky mortgage broker and, based on our previous interactions, I am going to hit him in his soft underbelly: I am going to make him listen or LOSE. Dahl, our instructor, watches us for 10 minutes and then stops us. He gives Tommie feedback. This is what he says:

"Did you hear what Phil was saying? Because you took the conversation in a whole different direction than where it should have gone. (Tommie is totally blushing right now, very embarassed). He didn't say he was starting a new business, he was saying he was thinking about various businesses to start with an online store being one of them. If you would have caught that major piece of information, you could have led him to a decision to work with us. As it is now, you've lost the sale."

OH SNAP! Take that Tommie!!!

See kids, you need to listen and pay attention and talk less. Don't be like our boy Tommie and wind up on the barbed end of a sales tirade from Costanza. That's not how to be a winner.


  1. I got thru the first sentence of yours and Tommies interactions and then all I heard in my head was Voo saying... "Jezus Christ Constanza writes too much".

    So I stopped.

  2. Was Tommie in my first grade class last year?
    Sounds familiar.