I'll never forget the experience because it taught me quite a lesson. And it was just a matter of keeping my mouth shut.
Early in my career I worked for a publishing company that was going through a major reorganization. I was responsible for a five-person sales team covering the eastern part of the country. My boss called me one day and told me the company's senior vice president was coming to New York and wanted to call on a few of our larger customers. I was excited about serving as his host. When he arrived the next week we visited a couple of pharmaceutical companies that advertised heavily in our magazines. The executive and I spent a lot of time together that particular day, and we discussed a variety of topics. However, I listened much more than I talked. At times there were lulls in the conversation. Being young, I was tempted to jump in with some sort of comment or witty remark. But I held back, and a few days later that paid off.
The next week my immediate boss resigned to start his own business, and I was asked to take over his job. I was flattered and surprised. My boss told me that one of the reasons I got the job was because of the way I behaved with that senior executive. As I later learned, the time we spent driving around visiting clients was something of a test. He believed my moments of silence showed that I was mature and confident. From his experience, only the immature and insecure feel compelled to blurt out something at the slightest provocation. My willingness to listen more than chime in helped me land a top sales job.
Over the years, the importance of listening has received lots of attention. Many books have been written on the role of listening in sales and delivering superior customer service. But I still hear stories about salespeople who just don't listen and then can't understand why they can't sell certain accounts. People often talk too much and end up boring those they're trying to impress. Everyone is under time pressure, so the worst sin one can commit in business is to talk over a customer. Still, it happens all the time. It's as though some people just cannot control themselves. I've even been on calls with salespeople who already had been told they had the business and needn't go any further with their pitch. For whatever reason, however, they didn't hear the words and proceeded with their presentations. That's rude and unprofessional.
Obviously, listening isn't only important in business. It applies big time in other relationships, especially family and friends. I would venture to say that none of us listens enough to spouses, siblings and friends. Parents also fall into this trap with their children. We get too caught up in what we want to say and don't pay enough attention to what others want to discuss. It leads to misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
The smartest thing anyone can do, whether it's on a sales call or home at the dinner table, is to listen first and talk later. Of course that's not always easy. Many of us are verbal people and love to talk. But we learn more and accomplish more by being good listeners. Someone once said that silence is golden. I truly believe it. Many companies fail simply because the boss doesn't have the humility to hear new ideas. There are so many possibilities if we would only shut up and listen.
Charles S. Lauer