Say Less to Notice More

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter

“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.”

– Ram Dass

I still remember many details of a particular meeting that I had when I was vice president of resort marketing for Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, even though it happened about 20 years ago. By most measures, this meeting was unimportant and should not have earned a place in my long-term memory, but its remarkable one-sidedness made a lasting impression on me.

I agreed to this meeting because the person who requested it had an intriguing marketing idea and came highly recommended by a colleague. I greeted him in the lobby, and as I led him back to my office he began talking, telling me about his idea and how he had developed it. He was passionate about his idea and was clearly very excited to be talking about it. As we sat down in my office, he kept talking and, without missing a beat, opened his briefcase to pull out a bound presentation book that described his company, his product and his novel idea. He started walking me through his presentation when it dawned on me that I hadn’t spoken one word since we first said hello in the lobby.

As he continued, I noted that his idea was very interesting, but it was clear that he didn’t understand my business or the issues that I faced. He was telling me how he could help Hyatt Resorts, but he didn’t know what Hyatt Resorts needed from him. He could have easily adapted his recommendations to our needs, but since he wasn’t asking me any questions, he had no way to learn anything about our business.

After about 25 minutes of non-stop talking, he finished, asking, “So, what do you think?”

“Well, I’ll have to think about it. Why don’t you leave your materials, and I’ll show them to my team and we’ll get back to you.”

He looked disappointed. “Did I miss anything important?”

“I’m not sure,” I answered. “Let me think about it.”

Here’s what I could have said (but didn’t): “The only thing you missed is the target. If you walk into a dark room and throw a dart without turning on the lights, it’s a one-in-a-million chance you’ll hit a bulls-eye. That is essentially what you did in this meeting.”

With only a little bit of information from me, he could have adjusted his story and made it more relevant for Hyatt Resorts. But he wasn’t interested in getting information from me, only in giving information to me. He missed the target and he missed the chance to connect with my business and with me. My reaction was, “I’ll have to think about it” and “We’ll get back to you,” because his monologue didn’t show me how he could help me. Essentially, he made me do the work of connecting his offering to my business needs.

If he had said less, not only would he have learned more about how to sell to me, I would also have enjoyed the conversation more. In their book, Be Quiet, Be Heard, Peter and Susan Glaser write that people who speak more than 51 percent of the time during a conversation tend to be more satisfied with the conversation. You can notice this principle in your personal life: Watch people on the receiving end of a monologue. How many of them are enjoying themselves?

Every moment you are talking during a persuasive conversation is a moment you are not listening to your customer. You are listening to yourself. Instead, say less, use your own words sparingly, returning to “listening mode” as quickly as possible. Give yourself the chance to be alert and notice cues that can drive your reactions. When you do this, you will not only notice more, but, as Peter and Susan Glaser teach us, your customer will be more likely to enjoy the conversation.

Customers don’t always tell you exactly what they are thinking. Sometimes they don’t want to share everything; sometimes they aren’t even aware of everything they are thinking and feeling. It’s up to you to listen for and notice the unspoken meaning. When you say less in a conversation, you will be more alert and will be able to detect hidden layers of meaning that lie beneath the words. You may notice a customer’s hesitation as he tells you about something, which might indicate that he is especially concerned about a certain issue. He may subtly allude to a problem he is having. He might start talking a bit faster, telling you he is particularly interested in the current subject of the conversation.

But you won’t notice all these hidden cues if you are more focused on telling your customer about you than you are on listening to them. Say less to notice more and you will be able to develop more effective and enjoyable persuasive conversations.

Steve Yastrow

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