Avoid Common Mistakes of Novice Listeners

We’re all guilty of multitasking when we should be paying attention to what our clients are saying. Learn how to better serve your clients’ needs with active listening.

March 1, 2008

I’m throwing down the gauntlet. I can’t help it. No one listens anymore!

Be honest with yourself (and me). How often do you really stop thinking about the other things in your life and just listen to what is going on in front of you? Not very often, I’d wager.

We’re constantly multitasking these days. We’ll watch TV, surf the Web, and talk on the phone — all at the same time. We’ll have a conversation with our client while reviewing our e-mail.

We’re just not tuned in to the communications we’re having. But the problem with this approach is that we miss a lot.

For example, we are too busy thinking about our next appointment to notice that our client flinched when we mentioned having to look at another town over so that they could afford what they wanted. We were too busy formulating our answer to the seller’s anticipated objection to the price to notice that he just mumbled something about needing enough net to pay us.

If you’ve ever had a client disappear or get angry at you out of the blue, then guess what? You probably weren’t listening. So many cues are available to us that there is no good reason why we shouldn’t know what is going on with our clients if we are paying attention.

The biggest complaint from buyers and sellers (other than not returning phone calls)? Their real estate professional didn’t listen! Don’t be that person. Here are some tips on how to improve your listening skills.

  1. Focus on your client and nothing else.I know — in this world of many inputs, reducing our bandwidth to a single source can be a challenge, but you can do it. Make it into a game.

    • Notice body language:Take in as much information about this person at once as you can. Notice her hair, her clothing, her posture. Watch her eyes —are they looking at you or wandering all over the room? Does she keep looking down as though she’s not sure about what she’s saying?
    • Notice language cues: What does her tone of voice tell you? Notice the speed at which she speaks, the timbre of her voice, any place where she says something more strongly or stammers. Are her words hesitant or confident?
  2. Listen carefully to what your client is saying.There are three parts to any conversation: content, context, and subtext. If you don’t take all three into account, you could be missing valuable cues about what your client is saying.

    • Content: The actual words that are said. This is the point that your clients are trying to make, the words they choose, and what they are trying to get you to understand.
    • Context: The environment in which the conversation is held. This is all about the situation surrounding the conversation. For instance, the words “Hey! What are you doing?” mean very different things when uttered as a casual greeting in a bar vs. being said quickly to someone shredding documents.
    • Subtext: This refers to what goes unsaid but is the driving force behind the conversation. Ever have one of those conversations where you were certain that the subject of conversation wasn’t really what you were talking about? This is subtext, and it’s often more important than the actual content. If you can identify what the subtext of the discussion is and address those issues, then you will probably have a better outcome than if you just address the content. For instance, if your sellers call two months into the listing and ask about doing some repairs or staging to make the house look better, the conversation isn’t about the staging — it’s about the sellers’ concern that the house hasn’t sold yet. If you don’t address that issue, then you’re missing the boat.
  3. Don’t wait to talk.Don’t formulate your response until you are done listening! One of the biggest mistakes people make in listening is that they stop halfway through to formulate their response. If you are thinking about what you are going to say, then you’re not listening and that doesn’t do anyone any good. Listen until the other person is done. Then, decide how to respond.
  4. Practice active listening. Reflect back what you have heard and acknowledge that you heard it. If you want someone to listen to you, then you need to prove that you are both listening to and understanding the person — both the text and the subtext of the person’s meaning.

In other words, if your clients have just told you that they need to hear from you more often and they sound frustrated, then it’s time to say something like, “I’m so sorry you’re feeling left out of the loop. Let’s figure out together how often you want to hear from me so that you feel we are communicating effectively.” And an apology is always in order if someone is upset, even if the apology is just, “I’m so sorry you’re upset.”

Did You Listen?

Being a good listener is hard work at first. But if you work at it, eventually, it becomes second nature. And if you practice it with your clients, you’ll find that they really appreciate it (Your significant other and/or children also will really appreciate it!).

Think about it. When was the last time someone really listened to you and that you felt truly heard? I’m betting it’s been awhile. And that’s true for most people. So you give them the gift of your attention, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to turn your clients into raving fans. So tune in.

Kelle Sparta is the author ofThe Consultative Real Estate Agent: Building Relationships that Create Loyal Clients, Get More Referrals, and Increase Your Sales(AMACOM, 2005). She is also the founder of Sparta Success Systems , a real estate training company.