Tag Archive for: Listening skills

Becoming Listening STARS – Free Livestream Event

No blog post this week because I want to let you know about a free, one-time, livestream presentation I’m giving next month.

On Friday, May 7 (12pm – 1pm Eastern) I’m giving “TIGER Talk” presentation on listening skills. I’m doing this for my friend Neil Collins who runs Innovate New Albany, an incubator for tech startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses.

It’s no secret that the best communicators enjoy the most success! There’s a premium put on developing excellent speaking and writing skills, but, for many of us, listening is the most underdeveloped of our communication skills. That’s because most people have never been trained on how to be better listeners and far too many mistake “hearing” for “listening.”

Listening is a 24x7x365 skill, something that can be taught, learned, and perfected. Improving this skill will help you enjoy more success at the office and enrich your personal relationships. In this presentation I’ll introduce you to five pointers for becoming Listening STARS!



Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An authorTEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by BookAuthority. His second book, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was a new release bestseller in several Amazon categories.

Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses on the application of persuasion in sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 350,000 people around the world.

Persuasive Coaching: Listening STARS

Last week we explored the necessity of asking good questions if you want to be a persuasive coach. You’ll recall the right questions can be effective because they tap into the principle of consistency. It won’t do much good to ask lots of questions if you don’t spend focused effort listening. This week we’ll explore five tips to help you grow in this area.

There are several levels of listening and the two you should shoot for as a coach are attentive and empathic.

Empathetic listening is where you seek to put yourself in the place of the other person. You not only understand where they’re coming from, you have a strong sense of how they feel. Empathy is different than sympathy.

Imagine someone tells you they lost their job. You might feel sympathy for them because you know intellectually it must be difficult and scary. The person who empathizes wouldn’t just acknowledge those feelings, to the best of their ability they’d allow themselves to feel the anger, hurt, and scariness that come with losing a job.

Empathetic listening is something most of us shy away from because it often entails feeling emotions we’d prefer to avoid. After all, who want to feel bad if they can avoid it?

Attentive listening allows you to understand where the other person is coming from but not necessarily feeling all the feelings. If you can’t empathize then attentive listening is the next best thing because at least the other person has been heard and you’re still in a better position to coach them.

How can we listen attentively and perhaps empathetically? Most people never consider how they could be a better listener and very few have view listening as a skill that can be improved. When I teach classes on communication I often share a method to help people become Listening STARS.

STARS is an acronym that stands for: Stop, Tone, Ask, Restate, Scribble. We’ll take a brief look at these five simple steps which, if put into practice, will make you much a more effective listener and better coach.

Stop. First, you need to stop whatever you’re doing when someone is talking to you. Doing so conveys respect and makes the other person feel important. Additionally, you will catch more of what he or she is saying because multi-tasking is a myth. You cannot listen when you’re texting, typing an email, or doing any other activity that taxes your cognitive abilities. Many studies show the best you can do is switching quickly from one task to another which means there are times you’re not listening.

Tone. Paying attention to tone is important because it often conveys feelings. When I ask my wife Jane how she’s doing and I hear, “Fine,” in a short, terse tone I know she’s not fine and wants me to ask how she’s really doing. Much like body language, tone can indicate how someone is really feeling.

Ask. This reminds us to ask clarifying questions. Normally I don’t advise people to interrupt someone when they’re talking but the exception is to get clarification on something that was shared to prevent miscommunication. Another advantage of asking clarifying questions is doing so shows you’re actively listening.

Restate. It’s one thing to think you understand another person but it’s altogether different to actually understand them. Never assume. Instead, take a moment to restate in your own words what you think he or she is trying to convey. If you realize you don’t either ask more questions or have them to tell you their story again.

Scribble. If you can take notes do so. When you do this don’t try to write the next great American novel because you’ll miss too much if you’re too focused on writing. Try to bullet point key concepts that will trigger more detailed thoughts when you reread your notes.

Each of these five steps is simply a choice but don’t fool yourself – listening is hard work. To improve it will take time, energy, and patience. Like most skills you need to succeed in business and life, listening needs to be worked on continually. It’s not easy but the personal and professional benefits are huge.

Houston, We Have a Communication Problem

If you saw Tom Hanks in Apollo 13 then no doubt you remember the phrase, “Houston, we have a problem.” Tom Hanks uttered those words when he realized there was a major problem that could cost the astronauts their lives. Whenever that phrase is used you should take note because something serious is happening. This applies to communication as well as space travel.

Where I work we are going through major changes in just about every aspect of our business. One big area that’s changing is how we communicate with one another. We’re trying to be more open, honest and collaborative in our communication. In a word, we’re striving to be more candid with one another so we can accomplish more. But Houston, we have a problem.

What is candor? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary its “unreserved, honest, or sincere expression.” When we’re candid we’re being sincere in expressing our thoughts and feelings about someone or something.

What holds people back from being candid? In a large corporation perhaps the biggest issue is fear of reprisal if someone up the food chain doesn’t like what they hear. Another hindrance is fear of looking foolish for expressing something others might disagree with. And certainly personal baggage can get in the way. For example, if you were raised in a home where you were constantly shut down, ridiculed or ignored you probably decided long ago that it wasn’t worth voicing your opinions.

A company also has to agree on exactly what candid means. Is it okay to say whatever is on your mind in the spirit of being candid? Someone might think, “What a f#&%ing stupid idea!” but is saying that the type of candid communication a company really wants? If a company is only looking at honesty and sincerity then perhaps it is candid.

But the bigger question is this – will that “candid” approach create a more open environment that encourages conversation or will is shut down dialogue? Based on my 30 years in business I think it would crush any attempt at creating more open, honest and collaborative communication.

Whatever the reasons for a lack of candor, just because its announced that management wants candid conversations doesn’t mean they’ll happen any time soon. Personal change is hard and cultural change is even harder. People usually take a wait and see approach hoping someone will break the ice. Employees want to know, “Is it really safe to speak up and voice an opinion when it differs from those in charge?”

Whenever communication takes place there’s a dynamic between the speaker and the listener. There’s what the speaker thinks he said and what he actually said. On the part of the listener there’s what she thinks she heard and what she actually heard.

A speaker might think he simply asked, “Why were you late?” when he actually came across accusatory because of heavy emphasis on the word “why.” Even if is was an innocent question the listener might have placed more emphasis on “why” than was intended and become defensive. As you might imagine, miscommunication happens easily and often.

When it comes to effectively communicating you can’t change the other person but you can make personal choices that will change you and that could open up the lines of communication. To build a culture where candor is the norm the bulk of the responsibility rests with each person. Here are three simple things you can do to help create a culture of candor:

  1. Preface your words. If you think your message could be misinterpreted consider the point of view of the audience and what they might need to hear first.
  2. Don’t get defensive. Even if what you hear provokes you candid conversation means hearing the other person out. Reciprocity means emotions will be matched unless you make a conscious choice to respond in kind to fear, anxiety or anger.
  3. Discover the real meaning. Ask questions to draw out the real meaning behind the words. It’s often the case that what you hear first is just the tip of the iceberg.

“Houston, we have a problem,” was a distress signal, a call for help. The NASA scientists came through and saved the Apollo 13 crew. When it comes to communications issues we can do the same if we take time to incorporate the three ideas outlined above. Do so and you’ll become a building block in a culture of candor.

Setting the Stage for a Successful Sales Call

Let me ask you a question and please be
honest; doesn’t it bother you when the doorbell rings and someone has showed up
unannounced and tries to sell you something? I’m confident everyone reading
this agrees that’s not how you want to be approached. Then why do salespeople
do that to their business customers?
Salesperson – “Hi Pat. I was in the area and
thought I’d pop in to say hello. Do you have a few minutes to talk because I’d
love to tell you about…blah, blah, blah.”
All too often people agree to give up some
time because they don’t want to appear rude but here’s a newsflash for the
offensive salesperson – they aren’t
listening to you!
They’re wondering why they didn’t honestly tell you they
didn’t have time to see you and are counting the minutes until you leave.
Holding successful sales calls entails setting
the stage because you want to be in front of people who want to see you and
believe you might just be able to help them or their business.
So how do you set the stage? A little pre-call
planning and understanding psychology goes a long way.
Common courtesy dictates you contact a client
(current or potential) to find a date and time that works for both of you. I
always suggest doing this by phone because it allows you to inform them about
why you want to see them and find out if there are any things you should be
considering in advance.
Salesperson – “Hi Pat, it’s Jim. I was calling
to see if we could find a time when I could stop by. I’d like to find out how
things are going and share with you some things I think you’ll find very
A big reason to make this initial contact is
to give the client time to think about you, your company, and your product or
Next, follow up immediately with an email
thanking them for their willingness to meet with you, confirming the date and
time, and giving them some information to look over and think about. Make sure
to ask them if they will look at it in advance because when they say yes, the
likelihood they will do it goes up. This approach taps into the principle of consistency
– people feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to
be consistent in what they say and do.
Salesperson – “Thanks for making time to see
me next Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. To get the most out of our time would you take a few
moments to look at the link below?”
Setting up the sales call like this also taps
into a psychological concept known as priming. Simply sharing information
beforehand can change how people think and behave.
Resend the original email on the day of the
sales call to remind the client of the time and ask if they’ve looked at the
information you shared. If they haven’t already they’re very likely to in
response to your email. Again, they don’t want to meet with you and not have
done what you asked.
As the meeting starts, again, thank them for
their time. Allow them the opportunity to share what’s on their mind before you
launch into your presentation.
After the meeting it’s always a good idea to
send a follow-up email. The reason for this email is to confirm any sale,
agreed upon next steps or action items. If you came away with a different
impression than the client this is the time miscommunication can be dealt with.
If you’re a salesperson I challenge you to try
this approach to a sales call. Clients and potential clients will appreciate
you respecting their time. You’ll also have the benefit of a much more
productive meeting because your contact will have had three or four
opportunities to think about your offer.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Influencers from Around the World – The Power of Influential Questions

I met Dan Norris in August 2004 when I attended the Principles of Persuasion Workshop®. Dan was the workshop facilitator and did a terrific job. He’s been a Cialdini Method Certified Trainer, one of less than two-dozen worldwide, for 15 years. In addition to being a CMCT®Dan has been the Director of Training for HOLT CAT since 2003. I invited him to contribute to Influence PEOPLE because of his vast knowledge of ethical influence. I know you’ll enjoy his writing and learn a lot from his post. If you’d like to connect with Dan reach out to him on LinkedInor Twitter.

The Power of Influential Questions
I can admit it freely now:  I’m a notorious eavesdropper.  Whether at an airport, grocery store, or restaurant, I delight in listening to the discussions of others.  I try to soak up every juicy detail, every interpersonal conflict, and every persuasive pitch that reaches my ears.  It’s amazing what people will actually discuss in public—topics ranging from the mundane to the downright absurd.  I like to believe I’m a student of human behavior, but the truth is, I’m just really nosey.

Over time, I learned more than just the latest gossip:  I realized people spent the majority of their time “telling” others what they thought and very little time asking questions.  In many cases, we spend enormous amounts of energy arguing points others already agree with.  We are just too busy “telling” to listen to what others have to say.

I reflected on myself. Was I any different?  (Spoiler alert: Nope.) I thought about all the times I belted out what I thought I needed to say.  I’d deceive myself and say “I’m just telling you how it is,” oblivious to others needs or perspective. Looking back, it took me significantly longer to get things done when I would “cut to the chase” and tell.  All too often, I felt I had to rehash issues several times before they were finally resolved.

Of course, I used to think others were slow or didn’t “get it.”  The truth is that I was the slow one.  My lack of questions and assumptions made it exceptionally difficult for me to hear what others were saying—and modify my behavior accordingly.

After this realization, I read every book I could find on questioning and communication.  I attended seminar after seminar on the subject. I also spent mentored with people who asked great questions (I’m looking at you, Larry Mills!).  It made a tremendous difference in my life—especially in terms of how I influenced others.

One memorable example of how questioning changed my influence approach came while coaching an employee named Harvey. At the time I was the new director of training at a large equipment dealership. It was common for me to spend time coaching others to reach their developmental goals.

However, this situation was different.  The supervisor shared with me the person frequently made disparaging remarks about his co-workers, and appeared to have a very “negative attitude.”  At the end of describing the employee’s behaviors, the manager leaned forward and curtly shared that “This is his last shot.  I’ve told him A THOUSAND TIMES that he needs to change and he hasn’t.  If you can’t help him, he’s out.”

I gave the meeting a lot of thought.  In the past, I would use the same template that many others use—tell the employee they have a problem, tell them what the problem is, and tell them what will happen if the problem isn’t resolved.  They would reluctantly agree to the findings of the meeting and leave. Sometimes they changed…sometimes they didn’t.

Then it hit me—his supervisor probably “told” him 999 times too many.  Despite failing each time, his supervisor continued to use the ineffective approach of “telling.”  I’m sure it lead Harvey to be as frustrated as his supervisor.

I decided to use questions in this coaching session to change the direction and try to salvage the working relationships.  To avoid falling back on my “telling” habits, I made a list of all the things I could gain by asking questions:

Questions reveal information I don’t already know.

“Telling” only shares information I’m familiar with…it doesn’t reveal how others are feeling, their perspective, or provide opportunities to influence.  Questions help me better listen to the needs, interests, and positions of others.

Questions influence others to make commitments.

When I ask questions of others, they make commitments about what they feel and believe.  If I say what needs to happen, others can doubt me. If I get others to tell me what needs to happen, they feel more committed to the solution.  Dr. Robert Cialdini’s landmark book Influence: Science and Practicecalls this the Principle of Consistency.

Questions involve others in the conversation

Telling pushes people away. Questions invite others into the discussion.  People want to express themselves and be heard.  They are more likely to listen to me if I listen to them first.

Questions influence people to reframe how they view the situation.

Questions are highly persuasive.  They are excellent ways to ethically influence others to experience private, inner changes about how they view a situation.  Another take away from Dr. Cialdini’s work.

I reflected on these four reminders.  “That makes sense,” I thought.  “Now how the hell do I use it?”  Channeling sage advice from a dear mentor, I resolved to write down several questions ahead of our conversation to prepare.

When the time came, Harvey sat down sheepishly in my office.  I could see in his eyes that he expected another didactic lecture about his behavior. After offering him some water, I pulled up a chair next to him.

“Thanks for meeting with me, Harvey. Before we get started, would you mind if I asked you some questions?”

“Sure,” said Harvey in a skeptical tone.

“How clear do you think I am about what happens in your department on a daily basis?”

Harvey tilted his head and appeared surprised by the question.  “I suppose you don’t know a lot about what goes on directly…probably only what you’ve heard.”

“I’d certainly agree with that,” I said.  “What role do you see me playing in our company?”

Harvey thought some more. “Well, you’re the training guy.  I guess you’re responsible for helping people grow and get better.”

“You’re right,” I replied. “I work with people at all levels of the company on their performance.  Since you and I don’t work closely together, I want to make sure I have some clarity about your goals before we move forward.  I wouldn’t want to make any recommendations without understanding your plans for growth.  How does that work for you?”

“Makes sense,” he replied. His body language became more relaxed. His shoulders dropped, and he became more comfortable in his chair.

“Great,” I said.  “Now I hope you stay with us for your whole career. Whether you work for the company for five, 10, or even the next 30 years—what do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to be known?”

Harvey paused in thought for a moment.  “Nobody’s ever asked me that.  I guess I would like to be the ‘go to’ person.  I’d like to be the person that others would trust coaching new employees or handling difficult tasks.  I want to be the person that is a ‘slam dunk’ for the next promotion.”

“I’m sure you have the talent to do so,” I replied.  “That said, I’d like to ask you another question:  When you use disparaging and negative language about others, how does that match the vision you just described?”

He paused as his eyes widened. “I never thought about it like that. I guess it doesn’t.”

“You’re right,” I acknowledged.  “How does that behavior position you as the next best leadership candidate?”

He began shaking his head. “Well, I guess it doesn’t make me a strong candidate.  I never thought of it that way.  I was just trying to be funny—I didn’t mean to upset anyone.”

It was clear that Harvey was beginning to see things differently.  “The past is the past, Harvey.  We all make mistakes or send messages to others that we don’t intend. Going forward, what are some things you might do to change your behavior?”

Harvey began discussing ideas that he could change.  His entire demeanor changed.  He became energized and focused.  He wanted to make the changes.  He wanted to fit the vision he had for himself.  We talked for some time as he created an action plan for himself.

I had one final question before we ended our meeting. “I know that you’re the type of person that can make changes like this happen.  There is no doubt your capable of rebranding yourself.  However, I think it’s important to reflect on what may happen if you choose not to change.  If you don’t go through with these changes, what the consequences would you expect?”

Harvey sat back in his chair thinking.  “Well,” he thought, “I imagine I’d be up for disciplinary action.  I’d expect to be written up.”

I was floored—his honesty was as surprising as it was refreshing.  I committed to support and coach him.  He was energized and ready to work on his relationships with others.  I called his supervisor to fill him in on our discussion. He was dumfounded.  He couldn’t believe Harvey was receptive.  He laughed and said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Harvey did change —dramatically.  He took ownership for his behavior and worked very hard to repair the relationships he had with others.  Harvey had no idea how his behavior affected others.  True to his vision, he now leads others and is a sought after coach.

Dr. Cialdini’s Principle of Consistency—influencing others to make a choice or take a stand on an issue—was the primary reason Harvey changed his behavior.  Questions revealed new information, involved Harvey in the conversation, influenced him to make commitments, and reframed how we all saw the situation.  It ethically changed the way we viewed the situation and provided a win-win for everyone involved.

I’m sure you have a “Harvey” in your life.  What questions are you asking them?

Dan Norris, CMCT®


Dan Norris, CMCT®

5 Pointers to Become Listening STARS

Over the last few years I’ve conducted quite a few workshops on different sales skills. The workshops are designed to get people to practice the various skills they learn in our online training environment. One of my workshops focuses on active listening skills. In this post I’ll share five pointers from that workshop to help you become listening “STARS.”

What I’ll share are not principles of influence but they impact influence because if you’re not a good listener then your best attempts at persuasion will probably fail. Listening is
important because it helps you learn about the other person, hone in on similarities, and build on the liking principle. Listening is also vital when it comes to the principle of consistency because only when you hear someone can you tap back into their words and ethically engage consistency.

Listening is an active skill so you need to do several things if you want to excel. Unlike some skills, listening skills are all things you can do. For example, I often tell workshop attendees I can’t dunk a basketball. Never could and it’s not likely at 48 years old, standing just 5’9 tall, that I ever will. It’s a skill I don’t possess and can’t acquire no matter how hard I work at it. If someone told me my career depended on dunking a basketball I’d start looking for a new career. But not so with listening skills! Each of the five pointers I’ll share is within your capabilities if you’ll
simply make the choice to employ them.

To be listening STARS, you need to remember Stop, Tone, Ask, Restate and Scribble. We’ll take a brief look at each of these.

Stop – First thing you need to do when communicating with another person is stop everything else you’re doing so you can give them your full attention. People who think they can multi-task are fooling themselves. Scientific studies show people who try to multi-task end up taking longer to do both tasks and are more prone to errors. My own personal experiment, which I’ll share at the end of this article, verifies this.
Tone – A person’s tone of voice is important for a couple of reasons. First, it indicates mood. You can usually tell by the tone of voice whether someone is happy, sad, angry, stressed, relaxed, etc. The other reason tone is important is because it gives more meaning to the communication. For example, the sentence, “I can’t believe you did that,” can mean many different things depending on the word or words the speaker emphasizes.
Ask – Make sure you ask good questions. This helps clarify the message the other person is trying to deliver. It’s also a great way for you to find out things you think are relevant to the discussion, even if the other person doesn’t think they’re important.
Restate – It’s not enough to think you know, or think you understand what the other person said; you need to verify you’re on the same page. Restating what you think you heard, and then putting the message in your own words is a quick, easy way to make sure you fully understand the message as it was intended.
Scribble – Take notes. Remember, note taking isn’t to write a novel, it’s to capture key points and key words to jar your memory as you recall the conversation. Too often I see people take the focus off of the speaker because they get so intent on writing as much as they can but in the end they miss a lot because this is a form of multi-tasking.
Let me share this about multi-tasking. During the listening workshops I read a short, one-page story to each class. As I read I have one-third of the class just sit back and listen, another one-third takes notes, and the rest of the people are distracted as they try to connect scrambled numbers from 1 to 72 while listening to the story. After I finish I give a 10 question quiz to everyone. Having done this with nearly 200 people what I found was those who took notes got about 60% more questions correct than the distracted group who were busy connecting numbers while trying to listen. Those who just sat back and actively listened got nearly 75% more questions right than the distracted group. Wow!
Two learning points come out of this exercise. First, as mentioned above, if you take notes, be brief so it doesn’t become a distraction. Second, and more importantly, stop whatever you’re
doing and give your full attention to the person speaking. That means put away your cell phone when you’re in a meeting or conference. You can say all you want that you can do both but you will miss more of the message because odds are, you’re probably not the statistical anomaly who breaks the mold.
So let me ask this – what would it do for you if you caught 60% to 70% more of a prospect or customer’s message than your competitors? I’d imagine it would do a lot for sales and service. To wrap things up, if you want to be master persuaders then make sure you’re listening STARS. Make the choice to follow the five simple steps I’ve outlined above and you’ll be on the path to becoming a much better listener.

Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.