This article was last updated March 3, 2022.
Most people believe they’re good listeners. In truth, Americans constantly interrupt each other and often fail to truly hear what the other party is saying. Unfortunately, this behavior also shows up as agents interact with their clients, especially when there is a conflict.
Becoming a successful agent requires excellent listening skills. Effective listening allows agents to uncover what matters most to their clients, strengthen connections, build trust and avoid misconceptions. It also makes it easier to solve problems when they occur.
To see how good your personal listening skills are, take the following inventory.
Listening skills inventory
Each question you answered with a “yes” represents a best practice for effective listening. The questions where you answered “no” represent areas where you need to upgrade your skills to become a more effective listener.
Practice these 10 strategies for improving your listening skills
The inventory above is based on the following best practices. Focus on implementing as many of them as possible in your business.
1. First and foremost, be honest
People judge your honesty based on whether you do what you say you will do, if you’re forthcoming about problems as they occur in the transaction, plus how well you maintain eye contact and keep your body language still.
Moreover, it’s OK to say, “I don’t know.” When you don’t know the answer to a question, let the client know that you will check with your office manager (or other resource) to get them an answer as quickly as possible.
2. Ask questions to build connection, rapport and trust
Understanding your client’s concerns begins with careful listening, which in turn forms the cornerstone for building rapport and creating trust.
For example, rather than doing a “listing presentation” where you focus on your CMA and the services you and your company provide, do a “listening consultation.” Ask questions that uncover what matters most to your clients in terms of their lifestyle, where they live and what is motivating them to buy or sell in today’s market.
3. Dig deeper with ‘how’ and ‘what’ questions — and never ask ‘why’
An important component of effective listening is “digging deeper.” While you could ask closed-ended questions that begin with the words “who,” “when” or “where,” these questions generate very little information. Here are a few examples:
- Who will be qualifying for the loan?
- When would you like to move?
- Where would you like to move?
In contrast, open-ended questions that begin with the words “how” and “what” generate much more detailed answers. Here’s what that would look like:
- How do you spend your time when you’re at home?
- What’s motivating you to sell?
Never ask, “why” because it puts the other person on the defensive:
- Why did your clients write such a low offer?
Another way to dig deeper is to say:
- Tell me more about that.
4. You have two ears and one mouth for a reason
Ideally, your client should be speaking at least two-thirds of the time. In fact, if you’re asking great questions, your clients may end up talking up to 90 percent of the time.
5. Write down what they have to say
A primary reason agents interrupt others is they are focused on what they will say next. In contrast, when you ask questions and write down what the person says, you’re focused on capturing the answer to the question. Additional benefits of writing down what your clients say include:
- You’re less likely to interrupt the client.
- You are sending a powerful nonverbal message that what the client is saying is so important that it was worth writing down.
- The clients feel you have listened to them and heard what they had to say.
6. The only opinion that matters is the client’s opinion
As much as you may be tempted to tell sellers that their proposed listing price is too high or buyers that their offer is so low that it’s ridiculous, always remember, “it’s their house, and it’s their decision.”
Instead, focus on being a conduit of information who assists your clients in giving the data they need to make the best possible decision about their home sale or purchase. Avoid injecting yourself into the decision-making process. If your clients are not being realistic, you can always refer the business elsewhere or walk away.
7. Clarity reduces miscommunication and misunderstandings
When you’re dealing with a complicated process with hundreds of pages of contracts, disclosures and loan documents, miscommunication and misunderstandings are common. Attentive listening, coupled with asking clarifying questions, is one of the best ways to combat miscommunication. For example, you can ask:
- Was that clear?
- Does that make sense to you?
Never assume that just because clients are sitting there quietly that they are clear on what you’re saying.
Second, like any industry, real estate is packed with terms and jargon clients don’t recognize. Examples include types of agency, specialized terms for mortgage and title (joint tenancy, grant deed, promissory note), common abbreviations such as CMA, DOM, MLS, PMI, plus the alphabet soup of real estate designations (GRI, ABR, CCIM).
When you use any of these terms, always ask if your clients are familiar with the term, and if not, explain what they mean.
8. Avoid the ‘me-me-me’ show
Avoid a “me” focus where you talk about yourself, your accomplishments or how much your clients love you. To see how often you use “I” or “me,” do an “I” and “me” audit on one of your print marketing pieces or on a Facebook or Instagram post.
Better yet, record a client meeting (with their permission, of course) to see how much time you spend talking about yourself. To break this habit, replace the words “I” and “me” with the word “you.” This shifts the focus from you and makes it about your client.
9. If you can’t say something nice…
Silence is golden. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything. Never criticize any of the principals in your transaction, the other agent, any affiliated service providers, the appraiser, contractors, inspectors, etc.
10. A rule to live by — ‘WAIT’
When you’re on a listing appointment, conducting a buyer interview or negotiating, always ask the following: “Why am I talking?” or “WAIT.” The bottom line is every time you’re talking, you’re not listening to and hearing your client.
Bernice Ross, president and CEO of BrokerageUP and RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, author and trainer with more than 1,000 published articles. Learn about her broker/manager training programs designed for women, by women, at BrokerageUp.com and her new agent sales training at RealEstateCoach.com/newagent.