Imagine this: You’re wrapping up a listing presentation and your would-be seller says she has a few concerns. You sit down to hear her out, but somehow at the end of the conversation, you still don’t understand what the big problem is. You try to reassure her but she says, “You’re just not listening to me.” And that is the precise moment where the listing presentation comes to a screeching halt.
Driving back to the office, you start thinking back on the conversation, trying to figure out what happened. It’s reassuring to tell yourself that she’s just one of those indecisive sellers with a communication problem. But in the end, you have to admit you really weren’t listening.
Instead, were you:
- …stepping on the ends of her sentences with assurances that you’re so great that you can handle any challenge that her situation might present, without really hearing what the challenge might be?
- …just trying to capture the factual information and data, while avoiding an emotional or subjective topic that the seller wanted to address?
- …listening only for the problems you were confident you could easily solve, while ignoring other important issues and opportunities?
- …too busy agreeing or disagreeing with the seller to listen objectively?
- …so focused on your next listing appointment to that you couldn’t see the opportunity in front of you?
These common listening styles are identified in Robert L. Finder, Jr.’s forthcoming book, The Financial Professional’s Guide to Communication: How to Strengthen Client Relationships and Build New Ones (FT Press, 2013). While such tendencies can lead to some really frustrating conversations, recognizing them can be the first step to better communication.
Though the book targets financial planners, one could easily replace the title subject with “real estate professional.” The presentations, the effort at gaining trust with a highly emotional and important segment of people’s lives, the need to instill confidence and hand out sometimes difficult advice—these situations are common to both industries and require advanced listening skills. Finder says that, while at a medical appointment, he told his physician he’d be in the book because “it’s about the importance of communications for financial professionals, but that it applies in many ways to all types of professionals, including doctors.”
Finder makes his observations and suggestions in a conversational manner, producing an easier read than one would guess from the title and target audience. He includes just enough humor and sarcasm to endear readers to his style, while simultaneously demonstrating that he is truly passionate about helping them enhance their communications skills.
Finder also demands humility from his readers while at the same time poking fun at the overconfidence that often plagues the egos of financial professionals. For example, when he asks readers if they ever feel uncomfortable giving a presentation, he offers the following to those who reply in the negative:
If you answered [no], there’s no reason for you to read on. You’re a liar, but there’s no need for you to read on.
Finder explains how to construct a “critical opener,” which will help you skirt your poor listening habits by kicking off the conversation right. After that, he shows how true curiosity can give you the restraint to sustain a conversation that will be mutually beneficial. Instead of crowing on about the importance of feedback, Finder suggests many ways in which to provide it, and explains how and why to resist moving into problem-solving mode too quickly.
In the second half of the book, Finder tackles some of the more technical issues (volume, word choice, visual contact) related to communication, subjects that seem to be neglected in the more touchy-feely communications books out there. He ends with two chapters offering concrete ways to put the book’s lessons into practice.
With that in mind, let’s get back to the quiz from the beginning. Finder labels the five tendencies you chose from, making the identification of poor listening habits almost second-nature. If you answered:
- you’re a “non-starter”
- you’re a “fact-finder”
- you’re a “iceberg listener”
- you’re a “judge”
- you’re a “pretender”
Which one are you? Be honest. There’s always reason for you to read on!