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April 1999



How to Listen - Steve Shapiro

Steve ShapiroBy now, most of us have been told not to "talk at" our prospects, but to listen for what they need and want. That's great-- if you know how to listen. If you're one of the many people who think they're listening but aren't getting results, the formula for effective listening that I'm about to share with you will make a dramatic difference in your business. In fact, I believe listening is the most important skill for Network Marketing success. Why? Because no matter how successful you become, or how high you rise in your organization, you must still build your business one person at a time. To do that, you must make a personal connection with people, a connection so powerful that it overcomes their natural resistance to change, to try something new, to leave their comfort zone. And the strongest link in the chain that connects people is the skill of listening.


The Two-Step Model

First, I want to give you the short model for effective listening. Master it first, then move on to the advanced model. The short model has two steps and it goes like this . . .

Ask! Listen! --Ask! Listen! -- Ask! Listen!

That's it. Notice that talk is not in this formula. Most Networkers use another two-step formula. It has two steps also, but it goes:

Talk! Talk More! --Talk! Talk More! -- Talk! Talk More!

I recommend the first model. Ask with enthusiasm and sincere interest, then listen with great attention. Here's another way to look at my two-step formula for listening . . .

Shut up and stop answering!

Where did we get the idea that it's our job to fix other people's problems? When did we begin to believe that we had to have an answer to help a friend in pain, when all they really want and need is someone to listen and understand?

I don't want you to have a simple and quick solution to my difficult problem. When you do that-- supply an instant solution-- you completely discredit the seriousness of my problem, and you therefore discredit me. You are sending the message that my problem is insignificant because all I have to do to solve it is take your advice.

During my seminars, women often relate the following scenario. "When I've had a bad day at work, or a problem with my boss, I want to tell my husband about it. I need someone to listen, so I can work out my frustration or anger. But as soon as I finish telling him what happened, he responds with an instant solution. He'll say, `Tomorrow, when you go to work, here's what you should do. . . .' When he does that, I feel even more frustrated, so I call one of my friends and tell her about it. I feel so much better when I hear her say, `Gosh, it sounds like that really hurt you.'"

Rarely, when people share a concern or problem with us, do they want us to try to solve it for them. We yearn for someone to listen, to understand, and to care. We need to stop answering and giving advice! Forget being Mr. Fix-it or Miss Fix-it. Just listen.

Of course, we quickly discover how difficult this is to do. We must form a new, better habit. It's like giving up cigarettes and replacing them with vitamins. Talking too much is to relationships what cigarettes are to the body. Listening is to our relationships what vitamins are to the body. One promotes dis-ease, and the other promotes health.

So before going to the mastery formula, you need to first master the two-step formula. Why? Because the law of listening says, "You gotta wanna." Some people don't want to listen, so to teach listening skills to them is fruitless. I enjoy visiting the home of my friends-- a couple with three kids-- because they're fun, good-hearted people. I also notice that they haven't heard anything I've said all evening. They haven't heard anything that anyone else says either. Nobody listens to anybody around their house. I could teach them all the listening skills in the world, but if they don't want to listen to each other, learning new skills won't help them. The moral is, first, you gotta wanna.


The Multi-Level Listening Model


After mastering the two-step formula, you'll be self-aware enough to graduate to what I call the Multi-Level Listening Model. With this formula, you're listening will have precision like never before. Here it is:

Multi Level Listening Model

Paying Attention

The first key to effective listening is to attend. Attend means to pay attention, and this is perhaps the most difficult step to effective listening. Paying attention is difficult. It takes practice. It's difficult because our minds are so easily distracted.

Two types of distractions-- external and internal-- prevent us from paying attention to the speaker. External distractions include noises, other people, telephones, or something about the person we're "listening" to-- the way they dress, or the way they talk, for example. Internal distractions make it even more difficult. Thinking about other things, thinking about what we're going to say next, jumping to conclusions, mind-reading, and making assumptions about the speaker's meaning, all get in the way of true communication.

Multi-Level Listening requires intense attention. If you have something on your mind that prohibits you from concentrating on the speaker, see if you can call a time out. Tell the speaker that now is not a good time because you are preoccupied and you want to listen later when you can give them the attention they deserve. This is always better than trying to fake listening. You cannot fake listening.

To give the gift of listening we must train ourselves to let go of distractions and be present. We need to care enough to slow down and get ourselves out of the way. We need to care enough to pause.

I have found that the more I practice this, the better I get. I have also found that it has a powerful effect on other people. They begin to open up and to share more of themselves. New levels of trust and rapport develop. It makes them feel important.

Do this one thing the next time someone talks to you: pay attention. Attend. Then attend some more. Practice and never stop practicing. You will get better, and it will transform your communication.

Showing You've Paid Attention

The next key is to acknowledge. When you acknowledge what the other person has said, it shows concern and respect for the speaker. It will prove that you are a responsive and caring person. Another word for acknowledge is empathize. We empathize with the speaker, acknowledging their position. It doesn't mean we agree with them. It does mean we understand them. We are beginning to understand the speaker's meaning and feelings behind the meaning. Acknowledging reduces friction and resistance and helps to create a climate of trust and rapport.

At first, this step may seem easy. It's not, but it is simple. When I teach this skill, it often takes up to two hours for people to put it into practice. Please do not underrate this step. Think about it. Visualize yourself doing it. Then try it right away.

There are many ways to acknowledge the speaker. One of the best is simply to pause when the speaker has finished. Remember, in communication it's the little things that make the big difference.

You may have noticed that most people begin talking right away, sometimes before the last word has left your lips. And sometimes they interrupt you. What message does this send? It says that they haven't listened to you. They've been formulating their response while you were talking. So just pause, and look the person in the eye. Pause for two to four seconds. I call this the Golden Silence. What message does this send? It says, "What you've said is important enough for me to reflect upon before I respond. I have listened, and now I'm considering what you mean."

Pausing often feels uncomfortable at first. We're not used to silence in communication. A great way to pause is simply to take a deep breath. It's impossible to talk and take a deep breath at the same time.

Another method is to give the speaker what I call verbal pauses. When they finish speaking, simply say, "I see," or "Oh," or "Ahh, or "Umm." This one little step can transform the communication process. Why? Because it proves to the speaker that you are listening. It forces you to slow down and pay attention. It feels good to you and to the speaker. It will help you to share meaning and gain understanding. Try it! Don't overlook this step. Just try it out ten times and decide for yourself if it works for you.

As you improve your skill, try acknowledging the emotional message that the person is sending. This is more challenging, but if you want someone to feel truly understood, then you must listen for and acknowledge their feelings. Here are some examples:

"It sounds like you're really upset about this."

"I sense some hesitation in your response."

"You must feel hurt by that."

"You're raising an important issue."

"I'm glad you brought this up."

"It must hurt to be treated that way."

"You've had other experiences with Network Marketing that make you leery."

"I see. You feel like, to make it in Network Marketing, you'll have to pressure people."

"I understand. You feel that selling doesn't fit your personality."

"It looks like you're feeling unsure about this."

"You're angry about what happened with another company."

For another example, here's a true story from my life. I remember a day several years ago when I was relaxing at home with my fiance. She got up to get the mail and the next thing I know she's shoving a letter in my face. Let's see what might have happened if I had followed my initial reaction-- defensiveness:

"What's this?!!"

"It's a letter," I yelled back, "What's your problem?!!"

"Who is this woman?" she screamed. "I want to know who this woman is!"

"It's from my client, Susan Smith! Get off my back!"

What do you notice about this conversation? Did I acknowledge her? No, I did not. First of all, I didn't pause. I just reacted. She yelled and I yelled right back. That's useless. The smart thing to do, what mature communicators do, is to acknowledge the emotional message. I could have responded :


"What's this?!!!"

(Pause, breathe!) "Wow. It sounds like you're really frustrated."

At this point, she is likely to respond in one of two ways. If my perception is on track, she might say, "You're damn right I'm frustrated!" On the other hand, if my perception is off-track, she might respond with, "No, I'm not frustrated, I'm angry!"

It doesn't really matter if I'm right or not. The point is that I am acknowledging what I perceive. This gives the speaker the chance to affirm or correct my perception. Either way, it begins the process of defusing friction, tension, and resistance.

Sometimes the speaker won't calm down right away. It might take two or three acknowledgments before she realizes that someone is actually listening. Some people get so shocked by this realization that they forget what upset them in the first place! Listening transforms the communication process.

The biggest mistakes made in selling the Network Marketing opportunity stem from poor listening. When we fail to listen carefully, we often make costly, yet avoidable, errors.

Getting Clear

To give the prospect an intelligent and effective response, we must first clarify what he or she means. To clarify means to make transparent, unclouded, distinct, sharp-- to illuminate. We clarify to get on the same wavelength and to gain a sense of shared meaning. The response we want when we clarify what the other person means is, "Yes, that's it!" or "You've got it!"

The biggest mistakes made in selling the Network Marketing opportunity stem from poor listening. When we fail to listen carefully, we often make costly, yet avoidable, errors. For example, what if someone says :

Prospect: "How long have you been in this business?"

Distributor: "Six months."

Prospect: "No thanks. I'm not interested."

Look at the graphic of the Multi-Level Listening model. Of the four elements to the model, which one did the consultant jump to? Did she acknowledge? No. Did she clarify? No. She jumped right to respond. And that's what gets us into trouble! Jumping to a response before we've acknowledged and clarified often leads to frustrating communication problems. Let's try another example, this time using the acknowledge and clarify elements:

Prospect: "How long have you been in this business?"

Distributor: "That's an interesting question (acknowledge). Can you tell me why that's important to you? (clarify)

Prospect: "Well, I don't want to get involved in something that's unproved."

Distributor: "I see. (acknowledge) You're only interested in opportunities that have a proven track record. (clarify)

Prospect: That's right. I'm not the type for "ground floor" opportunities.

Distributor: "What would you like to see to be convinced that this is a proven opportunity?

Prospect: "Well, I'd like to meet five people who've been successful with your company for at least two years."

Distributor: "Great. I can do that. What other concerns do you have?"

You probably noticed that the prospect didn't really care how long that distributor had been in the business. In the first example, the distributor responded to the presenting message and by doing so, shot herself in the foot. In the second example, by acknowledging and clarifying, she listened for the message behind the message, discovered the prospect's true concern, and responded in a way that got positive results.

Another thing you may have noticed is that it takes a little more work. It takes asking intelligent questions, like a detective, a doctor, or a therapist might ask. I'll say it again, listening is hard work, but the payoff is worth it every time.

We clarify by asking open questions. Open questions are the key to effective listening. They prevent us from making stupid assumptions. Here are some examples of open questions:

"Tell me more."

"Can you tell me more?"

"How do you mean?"

"Can you tell me more about your concern?"

"I'd like to better understand before I respond. Can you elaborate?"

"I'd like to understand your frustration. What else is troubling you?"

"So, your concern is. . . ."

Seeking clarity allows you to gain understanding, to see the world from the other person's point of view, to sense how it feels to her. If you can see the world through Joe Jones' eyes, you can sell Joe Jones what Joe Jones buys.

Here's another example:

Prospect: "But I don't want to sell to my friends."

Distributor: "I see. (acknowledge) It's interesting that you would say that. (acknowledge) One of my most successful distributors said that to me also. Can you tell me more?" (clarify)

Prospect: "Well, it's just that I can't stand it when people try to pressure me into doing something, so I wouldn't want to do that to people either. I'm just not a salesperson."

Distributor: "So, you don't want to feel like you're pressuring people, your friends or anyone else." (clarify)

Prospect: (feeling understood): "Yeah, I guess that's it."

Distributor: "And when you think of the word "salesperson," you think about high-pressure, and that's just not for you."

Prospect: "You've got it."

Before we respond to the speaker's concern, we need to understand the concern. That's why we need to look beneath the surface with Multi-Level Listening skills. It gives us a better chance to respond in a way that respects the speaker, proves that we care, and greatly increases the probability that we can help them overcome their resistance to change. The goal is to get someone to consider, to look at the opportunity, so that they can make a fully informed decision.

I have asked many highly successful Network Marketers, "If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently?" Nine out of ten gave me the same response. "I would spend less time trying to convince people who aren't interested and more time working with people who are." I agree wholeheartedly. But my question is this: "How many more people may have been interested in the Network Marketing opportunity if it had been presented by someone who really listened?" Remember, telling isn't selling. We sell best by listening.

Ben Feldman, one of the greatest insurance salespersons of all time, had a two-step sales success formula. He said the first step is to find the problem. The second step is to create an idea to solve the problem. You can't find the problem unless you listen with all of your senses and all of your heart. That's what Multi-Level Listening is all about. You need to find out what to respond to, before you respond.

Giving the Best Information

Now it's time to respond. Remember, if you're not careful, you will go right from attend to respond. Responding too quickly is a tough habit to break. Attend, acknowledge, clarify, then respond. If you're a skeptic, don't believe what I'm saying. Go out and try it for yourself. You'll never know if you like sushi-- or hate it-- until you try it.

When we understand what a person means we can feel confident that we will give a better response. Realize that you don't always need to have an answer. We can never have all the answers, but we can always give a response.

Responding is the easy part when we've really listened. We can:

  • Provide a solution or an answer, when it's appropriate
  • Provide resources
  • Agree to take action
  • Invite them to a meeting
  • Give them a sample
  • Educate them
  • Give them a tape, article, or book
  • Suggest options and alternatives
  • Suggest that the speaker find solutions
  • Suggest that the speaker return with options
  • Put the ball back in their court
    • "What do you suggest?"
    • "What do you plan to do about it?"
    • "This sounds like something you need to handle. I'll support you however I can."

If you can respond in 20 words, don't use 50. It's better to say too little than to say too much. When you say too little, if the other person is interested, they will ask for more. When you say too much, even if they are interested, you increase the odds of losing their interest. Never over-sell. I recently listened to a conversation between a customer and representative of a nutrition line. The customer asked a question about an herbal product and the salesperson answered her. She said, "Great, I'll take it." The salesperson then continued to sell it to her and the customer changed her mind!


When to Use the Model

The best time to use the Multi-Level Listening model is when you need it. When do you need it? More often than you might think. If someone says, "What's your name?" the model isn't needed. If someone asks, "When can I start?" you don't need to say, "That's an interesting question. Can you tell me more?" Or, if they say, "No way!" then don't use it. However, if there is any ambiguity in the person's question or statement; if you're unclear about anything they said; if any of the words they use could have two or more meanings; if there is any emotional content to the message, then the model will help you to listen more effectively.

Understand that meanings are in people, not in words. "Sometimes" might mean something much different to you than it does to another person. The 500 most used words in the English language have over 14,000 definitions. Which one do they mean? What if they say, "I'm interested"? How interested are they? If someone says, "I don't like multi-level marketing," why do they say that? And what do they mean by multi-level marketing? If someone is unsure, or frustrated, or confused, or lacks confidence, they don't need us to talk them out of it by giving our brilliant advice. They need someone to listen and to understand.

A great time to use the Multi-Level Listening model is when you want to teach others to be great listeners. The best way to teach is to walk your talk. Modeling excellence is the essence of leadership.

My friend, Ted Tillinghast, is a "Network Marketing husband." He totally supports his wife, Sandra, in her business and put these ideas to use with great results. One evening, Sandra was holding an opportunity meeting at her house, but she had to leave for an emergency. People from her downline continued the meeting without her. By the time Ted got home from work, the meeting was almost over. Only one prospect remained, and she was surrounded by five distributors all telling her about the company. Ted noticed that everyone was talking except the prospect. So he stepped in, introduced himself, and began asking her questions and listening. The results were dramatic. The woman began to open up. Her posture changed from a defensive one to an open one. By continuing to ask her questions, Ted discovered what interested her about the opportunity. Within 15 minutes, the woman became so excited that she asked to become a distributor. The next day, Ted played the messages on his answering machine for me. Three of the five distributors who saw this happen left messages. They were ecstatic about it. By modeling the way, Ted had taught them the secret skill of Network Marketing success.

Use the Multi-Level Listening model when you want to understand someone or when you want them to understand you. When you listen first, it increases the chance that the other person will return the favor. Use it when you want to establish a strong common bond. It will ensure that you create the best chance to influence them. Use it when you want to reduce conflict, increase your persuasiveness, and when you want to get what you want by helping others get what they want.

STEVE SHAPIRO is the author of Listening For Success, from which this article has been adapted, as well as an audio program called Mental Muscle-- Seven Principles for Strengthening Your Sales. Steve started his own home-based business eight years ago, and now owns a successful speaking, training and consulting firm called Shapiro Resource Group. His Clients include Network Marketing companies, entrepreneurial start-ups, and Fortune 1000 companies, including American Express, Compaq, Yamaha and Marriot. His book is available through Upline; for information about his company, email or call (949) 494-8715.

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Reprinted with permission from Upline, Shapiro Feature - April 1999, 888-UPLINE-1,