Listening well is a foundational tenet for sales success. Therefore, being cognizant of how we hear is critical because it profoundly impacts conversations, relationships, and results.

Before exploring the impact of listening to sales, let me quickly share eight different modes of listening. We listen to:

Build – understand what another is saying to help expand thinking; to build on it. Listen for connections to what you know and how that may help.
Judge and Find Flaws – assess the accuracy or worthiness of what you hear and find flaws, and even opportunities to nitpick. Listen for what’s wrong or incorrect.
Absorb/Learn – to gain new information and sometimes fit it immediately into our personal view of the world.
Solve – to find solutions. Listen for what makes this issue means to the speaker, and how your insight might solve the problem.
Sympathize – provide comfort and presence. Listen and respond with full support, indeed no judgment.
Forensic – deep listening, mustering all your senses — deep focus on words, tones, and non-verbals.
Understand/Empathize – share in another’s emotions, viewing from their point of view. The key here is to keep your . There’s a duality here – feeling another’s emotional state while maintaining your sense of self.
Manage a situation – we feel we’re at risk and listen for ways to keep ourselves safe. Be aware that when we’re in this mode, our emotions are high and consequently, our hearing is low (inversely proportional). We are likely to miss a lot of what’s being said or misinterpret what we’re hearing.

The type of listening we use shapes what we hear because we’re listening for different things. Being aware of the mode we are in makes a profound difference in what we understand. Each model focuses our mind on various details, and thus we hear different things – even though we thought we were listening and heard everything.

In sales, we often default to a few styles, depending on the context. A frequently used technique is Judging. We want to stay on track in a sales call, so we naturally judge what we hear to determine if it moves the process forward.

In Judge mode, we’re likely to miss information because our mind is busy analyzing what we hear, why we think it’s wrong, and listing our points for correcting or rebutting. We believe we are listening, but we’re moving in and out of listening.

You may find yourself saying things like, “Oh, I didn’t hear that part.” Or, “Could you repeat that?” Listening to find flaws is very useful at appropriate times, but don’t fall into the trap of adopting the Judge mode as a default.

In somewhat the same vein, salespeople frequently listen to Manage the Situation. When we are feeling unsure of our situation, e.g., new business prospect, or needs analysis call, we listen to Manage the Situation. Our internal voice says things like, “Can I find a way to impress this person?” Or, “Where is this going?”

Being in this listening mode causes us to hear only the facts and information that further our goals and objectives. What’s frequently missed are insights that can profoundly impact solutions and relationships.

Let’s talk about the Solutions listening mode. Our mind wants to find the connection and make our products and services valuable to the customer. Therefore, we are always on the lookout for places our solutions fit.

We acutely listen for Solution friendly opportunities, and as with Managing the Situation, we frequently miss essential information or opportunities to strengthen a relationship.

Our mode of listening actively impacts what we hear. As importantly, our listening mode implications what is said to us. The person with whom we’re speaking can sense the listening mode we are in. Haven’t we all detected it when someone’s judging us as they listen? It usually affects how and what we say because it raises our emotions; we start to pick our words carefully.

Here are some suggestions regarding listening modes:

When you are in a sales situation, think about the context of the call. What are you hoping to accomplish? In that context, ask the other person (or people) to use the listening mode you think is appropriate to the situation.

“I know this still needs work, so I’d like you to listen to build this further.”

Or, “I think this solution is almost ready to go, so please focus on finding flaws.”

Try to pay conscious attention to how you’re listening. Tune into your emotions, and assess if the listening mode you are in is most appropriate for your situation. Remember, your listening mode not only impacts what you hear, it affects what is being said to you.

Finally, be a Savvy Listener. Understand the context of the conversation. Pay attention to how you listen. Pay attention to how you are being perceived. If you are Savvy about how you listen, it will open up a productive conversation; people are drawn to Savvy Listeners.