How many of us find ourselves forming a response to a prospect or customer comment or question, well before they have finished speaking? I’d guess we are guilty of doing this far too frequently!
Doing this is, in fact, the opposite of active listening – yet we do it all the time. We could call this, “pre-response processing”.
What are the negative impacts? Myriad! While we are constructing our responses, we may miss tone, inflection, words, or even full phrases, putting us at risk of misinterpretation or worse. An answer that is out of alignment with our prospect or customer’s intent negatively impacts their trust in us, damages our authenticity, and can throttle the conversation. They will not feel “heard”.
Pre-response processing seems to happen most frequently when you have “heard it all before”. This can take place in a discovery conversation, when your prospect is describing their situation, and you’ve heard that same story a hundred times before from others!
I found myself doing this today and had to apologize… Which brings me to some solutions:
- Recognize that you have stopped listening, apologize, and ask them to repeat. Better to ask them to repeat than to misunderstand! “Sorry, can you please repeat that? I want to make sure I hear what you are saying…” (If you are operating over the web, you can consider blaming “the connection…”!)
- Ask them to pause, so that you can jot down a note – do so – then re-engage. “Hang on, let me write this down…” This actually helps the conversation, as it gives the appearance that you are making notes about what they said (even if you are simply making a note about what you want to say…!)
- Practice active curiosity, meaning listen intently while seeking to hear anything new or unusual (even if you’ve heard the story a hundred times before…). It is terrific to be able to observe, “Wow, that’s a twist I’ve never heard before!”
- Simply stop your pre-response processing! (This is the hardest to actually put into practice.)