Get it Done: Hone Your Listening

All ears

August 1, 2004

When 1970s TV detective Lt. Columbo said he had “just one more question,” the killer knew his goose was cooked.

Columbo always got his man or woman, not through tough-guy tactics but with purposeful listening. You can apply the same principles to give better service to buyers and sellers, according to sales trainer and speaker George Colombo, the author of Killer Customer Care (McGraw-Hill, 2003). One of the best reasons to listen, he says, is that it acknowledges the importance of your prospects’ thoughts and differentiates their needs from others’. All ears? Good. Here are eight steps to effective listening.

  1. Talk with, not at, others. Often we’re so intent on making a point that we engage in simultaneous monologues rather than in a dialogue.
  2. Avoid interrupting. It’s tempting to push along a conversation—you’ve heard every buyer and seller objection before, right?—but doing so assumes too much and makes prospects feel marginalized.
  3. Value silence. Don’t jump right in after prospects speak. A little silence loudly demonstrates you listened closely and are thinking before responding.
  4. Paraphrase. After you’ve taken a moment to consider what prospects say, rephrase the comments in your own words to ensure you understand what was meant. For instance: “You say a busy street isn’t off-limits if we can find you a house with a private backyard. Is that correct?”
  5. Ask questions. When something doesn’t click—you don’t understand why buyers insist on a neighborhood that’s beyond their price range—ask for an explanation. Examples: “Let’s talk about why this neighborhood is so important to you, and maybe I can help you meet your goals in a more affordable location.” Or, “when you say the backyard has to be ‘adequate,’ what size lot are you looking for, and is that more important to you than the screened porch?”
  6. Listen for negotiating nuggets. A couple ooh and ahh over the playground set in the yard at your listing. You mention it to your clients, who say they might consider selling it. When the buyers make an offer, use the set as a bargaining chip if necessary.
  7. Be all ears—or eyes. When you talk over the phone or chat online, avoid multitasking. You risk missing the person’s tone and substance.
  8. Distracted? Be honest. If you’re too busy to listen, say, “I want to hear what you have to say, but could we talk later?” Specify a time to regroup.

Criminals always underestimated Columbo, with his quizzical looks and rumpled raincoat. But pay the kind of careful attention he did, and you’ll find prospects eager to have you on their case.

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).

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