Listening can be difficult. People have the tendency to want to talk instead of listening to another individual speak. I’m a talker, and I am willing to admit that I always want to put my two cents into every conversation. What I have learned, though, is that not listening can cause some trouble.
This summer, I have had the great opportunity to work for Monsanto as a Seed Sales Intern. A sales internship was not what I planned on doing this summer with my agricultural communications degree, but I have enjoyed every second of my internship. When going into the position, I was full of confidence. I knew I was going to talk with many farmers and others, which is no problem for a girl with a communications degree and a big mouth.
The first farm visit I ever made was not bad, but wasn’t a complete success in my eyes. I was visiting a farm outside of Springfield, Illinois where Joe, my boss, and I were going to observe nutrient deficiency in a field. On the way to the farm, Joe was filling me in on all of the information I would need to know. We discussed the farmer and his family, how many acres he farmed, what products from our company he planted, what problems he was facing and so on. I listened, but instead of opening my ears and absorbing the information, I would think of a response to what Joe was saying. We arrived at the farm, greeted the farmer and then headed out into the field. As we were walking through the field, Joe was giving me valuable information about the problem in the field. Once again, I was not listening and was looking at how pretty the sky was instead.
We stopped once Joe discovered the problem and began discussing it with the farmer. Then, I was blindsided with a question from the farmer: “What nutrient deficiency do you think this field is experiencing young lady?” I froze. Joe had told me this answer when we were walking through the field, but I was too busy not paying attention. All I could say was that I wasn’t sure what was going on in his field. Thankfully, I had Joe with me to save the day, but it was an embarrassing experience.
In my sales communication, the assigned textbook, ProSelling, states the five most common reasons salespeople don’t listen. The five reasons are: 1. They are bored, 2. They don’t really care about the speaker or his or her opinions, 3. They feel they already know what the customer is telling them, 4. They can’t focus on someone else for very long and 5. They are nervous and are preparing the next thing they want to say. Those five reasons make perfect sense when I think about my personal experience. In the truck with Joe, I was so nervous about not knowing what to talk about that I didn’t listen. Then out in the field, I wasn’t focusing on the farmer or Joe. I believe that almost every single salesperson in their career has faced the difficulties of listening. People may listen, but they don’t actively listen.
Actively listening is when one hears and retains what he or she has heard. Personally, I get bored doing that. I’m sure I am not the only one to get bored either, and that is because I enjoy talking. The textbook states that not listening is the number two mistake made by salespeople. I firmly believe that information because of how often I have not listened. Poor listening isn’t just in sales, though; it happens in every individual’s life. Also, people do not purposefully not listen. I know an individual not listening to me has offended me before, but it happens. I have done it myself, but I have trained myself to get better at it.
There are ways to become a better listener. One way is to ask clarifying questions to help you understand what is being discussed. Asking confirming questions is another way of making sure to understand and retain what someone is saying. In sales, what I have found to be helpful is to carry a small notepad. When I am talking with someone, I write down the key points they state. When doing this, it is critical to stay engaged with the individual and keep good eye contact. One should not be staring at the notepad the whole time. There have been many times that a farmer has said “thank you” to me for taking notes. The first time that I heard a “thank you” I was surprised. Why would a farmer tell me “thank you” for writing stuff down? He then proceeded to tell me that it shows I care about what he is saying and will remember what we discussed.
The little things we do to become better listeners will help us in our personal lives and careers. I will continue to stress about how important it is to stay an active listener. Ask questions, take notes, ask for clarifications, and most importantly: NEVER STOP LISTENING.