Sales Training - Baseball, Comedy and Old Movies - A Tribute to Abbott, Costello and the Art of Active Listening

Reblogger Michelle Silies
Real Estate Broker/Owner with PREA Signature Realty -

Original content by Ryan Shaughnessy


Occasionally, we have all been parties to conversations that simply go awry.  There is a disconnect between the speakers.  It can seem that the other person is speaking a foreign language and that the speakers are talking over or past each other.  When I observe or hear these odd conversations, it reminds me of the old Abbott and Costello routine "Who's on First?" from my childhood. 


Example of a Conversation Gone Awry

The general premise behind the comedy routine "Who's on First" is that Costello, acting as a peanut vendor, asks Abbott, the manager of the St. Louis Wolves, a simple question "Who's on first?"  The comedy act is a great example of a conversation gone awry.  It goes something like this:

  • Abbott: Well Costello, I'm going to New York with you. You know Bucky Harris, the Yankee's manager, gave me a job as coach for as long as you're on the team.
  • Costello: Look Abbott, if you're the coach, you must know all the players.
  • Abbott: I certainly do.
  • Costello: Well you know I've never met the guys. So you'll have to tell me their names, and then I'll know who's playing on the team.
  • Abbott: Oh, I'll tell you their names, but you know it seems to me they give these ball players now-a-days very peculiar names.


  • Abbott: ... Let's see, we have on the bags, Who's on first, What's on second, I Don't Know is on third...
  • Costello: That's what I want to find out.
  • Abbott: I say Who's on first, What's on second, I Don't Know's on third.
  • Costello: Are you the manager?
  • Abbott: Yes.
  • Costello: You gonna be the coach too?
  • Abbott: Yes.
  • Costello: And you don't know the fellows' names?
  • Abbott: Well I should.
  • Costello: Well then who's on first?
  • Abbott: Yes.
  • Costello: I mean the fellow's name.
  • Abbott: Who.
  • Costello: The guy on first.
  • Abbott: Who.
  • Costello: The first baseman.
  • Abbott: Who.
  • Costello: The guy playing...
  • Abbott: Who is on first!
  • Costello: I'm asking YOU who's on first.
  • Abbott: That's the man's name.
  • Costello: That's who's name?
  • Abbott: Yes.
  • Costello: Well go ahead and tell me.
  • Abbott: That's it.
  • Costello: That's who?
  • Abbott: Yes.
  • Costello: Look, you gotta first baseman?
  • Abbott: Certainly.
  • Costello: Who's playing first?
  • Abbott: That's right.

To see the entire comedy routine, click on: Naughty Nineties or the Colgate Comedy Hour

The Art of Active Listening

So, how can you avoid these awkward, disconnected conversations?  The key is to be an engaged active listener.  "Listening" isn't just hearing the words.  It is hearing the words with thoughtful attention and giving the words careful consideration.  Here are some active listening tips:

Tip #1 - Talk Less... Listen More

•  Talk less.  Listen more.  It sounds simple but you will get more out of a conversation when you simply listen.

•  When speaking, use simple, concise terms and phrases.  Avoid jargon.  If you use jargon or acronyms, explain the words or concepts.  Don't assume that the other person will understand these words or concepts. 

•  Be concise.  Get to the point directly. 

•  Don't feel the need to fill gaps in the conversation.  Silence is okay.

•  If you are the listener, encourage the speaker to continue by using short acknowledgement comments, asking questions to clarify the issue, or simply nod.

Tip #2 - Be Approachable and Receptive

•  Be receptive to the speaker's needs.  If you don't have enough time or are distracted by other business, schedule a time for the conversation when you can devote you full attention to the conversation.

•  Don't make assumptions or anticipate statement.  When you make assumptions or anticipate statement, you have already stopped listening and reached a conclusion before you have heard all of the facts.

•  Don't interrupt or finish sentences for others.  Allow the speaker to fully explain their position, problem, etc.

•  Defer judgment until the speaker has finished.  Don't try to persuade others until you have fully listened to and understand their point of view, the underlying facts, etc.

•  Turn off your personal filter.  Keep an open mind.  Don't mentally prepare a rebuttal.  Don't interrupt with counter arguments.

Tip #3 - Give the Speaker Your Complete Attention

•  Focus on the speaker and the conversation.

•  Eliminate distractions like telephone, e-mail, etc.  Don't look at your watch, clock, Blackberry, etc.

•  Acknowledge key points with a nod, smile or brief comment.

•  Don't tune out.  Make brief comments or ask short questions to keep the speaker focused on the issue.

Tip #4 - Pay Attention to Body Language

•  Read the listener's body language.  If the listener appears confused, ask clarifying questions or restate your question or statement using simpler language.  If the listener appears disinterested, stop talking or change the subject.  Pay attention to tone, volume, facial expression, gestures, etc. as body language provides an important insight or context for the words spoken.

•  Show that you are listening.  Don't play with your tie, pen, watch, etc.

•  Make eye contact.  Face the speaker.  Don't look away from or beyond the speaker.

Tip #5 - Work to Understand the Message

•  Take notes.  Write down key points.  Save your questions for an appropriate time.

•  Focus on the message.  Don't obsessively focus on the method of delivery or choice of particular words.

•  Eliminate confusion and misunderstandings by asking questions to clarify the issue.

•  Rephrase the main points and repeat them back.  Summarize the speaker's comments before you respond.

•  Ask relevant open-ended questions.

•  Don't steer the speaker to other topics.  Keep the focus on the issue raised by the speaker.

Tip #6 - Respond in a Direct Manner

•  Be candid, honest and open.

• Don't avoid "hard" issues.  Address them directly.

•  Assert your opinions in a respectful tone and manner.  However, don't sugarcoat your response or beat around the bush.

•  Stay positive.  Instead of focusing on the problem, focus on the solution.

It is hard to break old habit.  If you aren't receptive, make assumptions and jump to conclusions, and fail to ask relevant questions to obtain additional information, you will find that you may just have missed the point of the entire conversation.  It is amazing how often what is said and what you heard is strikingly different. 

If Abbott had listened to Costello or if Costello had listened to Abbott, we would have been deprived of one of the greatest baseball comedy routines of all time.  Lou Costello died on March 3, 1958.  Bud and Lou - If you are listening, thanks for the great laughs that you brought me.

If you are a developer interested in sales training for your staff, please contact Ryan Shaughnessy at PREA Signature Realty at 314-971-4381 or send an e-mail to


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Michelle Silies

Broker-Attorney, Your St. Louis Relocation Specialist
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