Seek first to understand

I sit in a lot of meetings with my clients. These could be meetings where I’m interviewing them, or they could be meetings with my client and a vendor, during a sales call or an implementation kick-off.

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that the most successful communicators in the room are those that take the time to actually listen to the other party, and then confirm they heard correctly what the other person said. Here’s what that kind of communication looks like:

Party 1: “You said your system tracks emails that are sent by staff. But lots of times I send personal emails that I wouldn’t want to be tracked in the database.”

Listening party: “So are you asking, ‘Is every email I send tracked in your system, or can I choose which emails to track?'”

Party 1: “Yes, that’s right.”

Reframing the question to confirm comprehension is an excellent way to advance a conversation and really assure that good communication is happening. (This is often referred to as “reflective listening.”)

Too often, especially during sales demos, I see the salesperson interrupt a questioner, thinking they can anticipate the question or finish the speaker’s thoughts. Not only is it rude, but often it’s just wrong, making the conversation more difficult and more unclear. Simply waiting an additional five seconds, and reframing the question for clarification (like above), would save everyone a lot of time and definitely help make the sale!

My clients often say at the end of meetings with me, “Wow, you really seem to understand what we’re trying to do.” I take that as a very high compliment. And reflective listening is one way I make that happen.

About Wes Trochlil

For over 30 years, Wes has worked in and with dozens of associations and membership organizations throughout the US, ranging in size from zero staff (all-volunteer) to over 700. In that time Wes has provided a range of consulting services, from general consulting on data management issues to full-scale, association-wide selection and implementation of association management systems.

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