How well do you listen to your clients? Hearing our clients’ stories may be even more critical than few of us realize.

Over the last six weeks, I’ve attended six conferences, including NAR and the International Coach Federation Annual Conference. Each had useful information, but none had the impact that “Healing Our Lives and Healing Our Communities” conference did.

The attendees at this conference were primarily Native American. “Aboriginal” or “first people” cultures differ tremendously from 21st Century Western culture. For Native Americans, storytelling provides the foundation upon which relationships are built. Unlike corporate America where we rush to interrupt, Native Americans do not interrupt each other. Even when the story is inappropriate or causes the group to exceed time constraints, no one interrupts. Furthermore, you must share your own story before others will open to you. The ability to hear others may be the most important gift that we can give to our clients and our loved ones.

A primary way Native Americans share their stories is through “talking circles.” The talking circles epitomize the shifts possible from simply hearing others. The rules are simple:

1. You only talk when you have the “talking stick”

2. You do not comment on what someone else says unless it is to say, “Thank you for sharing your story.”

Because no one passes judgment on what you say, people share intimate details about their most personal experiences. The simple act of being heard in a safe, non-judgmental environment allowed many people to move past some horrific experiences.

Do we need to be better listeners in our business? Absolutely! Group therapy, group coaching and teleclasses exemplify the Western version of a talking circle. As in talking circles, we share our stories, and healing often occurs. Talk radio, letters to the editor, and our constant need to interrupt also illustrate how much we need to be heard. Selling or buying a home is a huge financial decision for most people. Consequently, it is critical agents hear what really matters to their clients. In fact, it’s not surprising to find most top producers are excellent listeners. To do a better job of hearing your clients, follow the five steps below.

1. Shut up and sell

If an agent has a need to appear as an expert, the agent may tell his/her clients what to do. For example, agents commonly tell sellers where to price their property. If the seller doesn’t listen, some agents become angry because the seller did not heed his/her advice. It is also common for agents to point out the features they like during showings. In some cases, what the agent likes may be the feature that causes the buyer not to purchase. The point is that when the agent is talking, the agent is not listening. “Shut up and sell” means keeping your opinions to yourself. Your role is to uncover what your clients need and then help them obtain it.

2. Break the interruption habit

The next time you are with clients, notice how many times you are tempted to interrupt. For most of us, interrupting others is a common practice. If you’re male, you are even more likely to interrupt when a female is speaking. Awareness is the first step in overcoming the interruption habit. When you feel you must interrupt, count to 10 and let the client finish having their say. If you still feel the need to say something, ask a question to clarify what the client is saying.

3. Only answer when asked

If your clients want your opinion, they will ask for it. If you are having trouble keeping your mouth closed, ask yourself whether what you have to say supports the client or is just your personal need to be heard. In most cases, it is best to keep your opinions to yourself. Again, if you must say something, ask a question to clarify what you are hearing from your client.

4. Avoid advising

This may seem like a funny piece of advice. Remember, the decision to buy or sell is the clients’ decision – not ours. When clients ask for your advice, outline the options and then turn the choice back to the client. For example, if your buyers ask how much they should offer in a multiple offer situation, outline three options. The buyers can make an offer as they would normally when there are no other offers. If the buyer really wants the house, they can offer close to asking price. If the situation is very competitive or the buyer is desperate for the property, then the buyer can offer full price or over asking. After outlining the options, you would conclude by saying, “It’s your choice, what would you like to do?” Listen to their response and act accordingly.

5. Share your stories

Our clients do want to hear our stories. When a client wants to know what you think, share your past experience. Use “I” language to emphasize this is what you experienced. Avoid using “you” language since it is directive and implies the client should do as you say. In addition, be sure to point out that your clients may have a different experience because the circumstances are different.

6. Avoid “should”

In many cases when we use the word “should” we are attempting to manipulate another person. “Shoulds” normally signal we are attempting to run our agenda rather than hearing what matters to the client. To see how prevalent “should” is in your life, go on a “should” diet for a week. Notice how many times others use “should,” as well as when you use it. Once you spot how most people use this word, it is easier to let go of using it.

Improving your listening skills is an inexpensive way to improve your business and to generate more referrals. Isn’t it time to start listening today?

Bernice Ross is an owner of and can be reached at


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