How many of us out here have been told by someone that one of the things real estate agents have to be able to do is “listen better”. Have any of you worked with a customer or client who ‘complained’ that they came to you as their previous agent was not a good listener? They were interested in one type of property and kept being shown homes that were not what they were looking for. Or perhaps the story was, “I instructed my agent the home was not available on Saturday and I kept getting calls asking if he could bring a buyer by on Saturday.” Yes of course these interactions are effected by things like ‘inventory available to an agent’ and ‘an agent’s / customer’s schedule’. None-the-less, each demonstrates a failure, to one degree or another, in active listening. One might ask, “Okay, then what do you do when all that is available to me for showing is something other than what a customer says he/she want” Active listening entails using the information you have to educate your customer and assess whether, based on that information, your customer is interested in making a different decision. Whatever the response is to the information you have provided, that is what you have to listen to in order to adhere to the rules of active listening. This does not mean that you cannot reflect on how things are going to determine whether your client/ customer is open to modifying their requests/interests/needs over time. This is part of a process that will help you build a stronger client-agent / customer-agent relationship and leave you with an advantage over agents who have not yet developed this skill.
What is active listening. Listening is a physiological response that involves sound waves traveling into you ear canal where it is then processed by your brain. No effort is require here. All you need is working anatomical parts. Now active listening, is a completely different beast. It involves a number of skill sets that often don’t come naturally. To be an active listener, you have to be less dependant on your ears and more dependant on your brain, eyes and gut. The key is to note the following:
Eye Contact: How else are you able to demonstrate to your client that they have your full-hearted attention? Your eyes and where they are looking will convey that you are being attuned to your speaker or will convey that you may not be fully paying attention. Without eye contact, you might also miss value information communicated non-verbally.
Non-verbal Communication: As you are now aware of the importance of eye contact, you can now begin to consider the non-verbal cues that are being communicated by your client/customer. When you provide information, you can assess how that information is being received based on what you listener says, but more importantly, what is not said- I.e. the non-verbal cues (eyes turning down, a twitch or frown appearing, shaking hands/twitching legs, body becoming rigid, etc.). Non-verbal communication goes both ways. When a witness is asked to testify before a jury and is coached on how to address the jury, they are instructed to sit up with legs uncrossed and eyes looking at those whom they are addressing. This posture is most likely to communicate openness and honesty. Be aware of your own body language when communicating to your clients/ customers.
Questioning: Follow-up on information being provided with appropriate related questions. It will show that you are paying attention and it will provide you with additional information you can use to be of help to your prospects.
Clarification: If something doesn’t make sense to you, ask for clarification or ask clarifying questions- “ When you say….do you mean….?” You can also say, “I’m not sure I understand” or “Let me just make sure I got it.” Clarity on what your clients and customers need , want and are communicating, particularly when you are unsure.
Reflection: Surmising what you understand your prospect to be saying and ensuring that your both on the same page is a good tool to help maintain the relationship you have built. This should be done as the relationship evolves as well so that you are always informed of whether your client’s needs and interests have changed. Reflection may also involve assessing what you bring to the relationship that may be a barrier to communication and understanding. It may mean being able to say to yourself “I need to stop cutting people off when they’re talking” or “I have a bad habit of jumping in and trying to finish someone’s thoughts”. Yet another way to think of ‘reflection’ is to reflect on what personality types ‘rub you the wrong way’ and which ones you find you work well with. We sometimes don’t think of how we react when required to work with a personality type/style that doesn’t mesh well with our own. This knowledge will help you strategize around working with personalities you may feel more challenged by.
Take this information with you to your next interaction with your buyers and sellers and practice putting these skills into action. Over time, they will be like any other tool you’ve work on developing and will benefit you tremendously…not only in your professional relationships, but in your personal ones as well.