The LEAPS Process, Part 1: Listen

Photo from Public Domain

The first step in the LEAPS process is Listen.

Listening is an under-rated skill, and I believe poor listening to be a principal cause of failure in professional sales. When you think of a salesperson, you might think of someone who slickly presents a sales spiel designed to overcome all forms of sales resistance, but that simply is not true of a successful salesperson. The professional salesperson does much better by carefully listening for clues about what the most important factors are to his potential client, and tailoring the presentation to those factors only.

I attribute my own failure in the insurance business to my failure to intelligently listen to clients. I had worked as a programmer for a life insurance company, and I knew the laws, principles of operation, actuarial science, and mathematics behind life and health insurance. When things got really slow in software, I thought I’d become an insurance agent, since I already knew how insurance works. After doing well in the preparation classes, and scoring very high on the licensing exams, I quickly discovered that knowing how insurance works and being able to sell it are completely unrelated skills. I wanted to educate the consumer on how things worked, and how to get the best deal on insurance. I found that nobody really cared about that. Despite that experience, I persisted, thinking that I just needed to polish my presentation more — a misconception further encouraged by the agencies where I contracted. What I should have done was find out as quickly as possible what the potential client wanted, and then discuss nothing else that wasn’t legally required.

In the context of a personal relationship, listening involves trying to find out what is important to the other person. Active listening is more than just keeping your own mouth shut. To listen actively, you should be trying to answer questions in your own mind, like “why is this person saying this?” or “what is it that this person is trying to tell me?” or “what personal values is this person trying to express?”

If you are like I was when I was trying to sell insurance, effective active listening will require some practice.

If you are already in a troubled relationship, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you are actively listening, but jumping to unrealistic conclusions about what you hear. Learning to actively listen will help you deal with people much more effectively.

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