Have you ever noticed that the more someone feels unheard, the louder they get? I have three young children and I see this every day. My kids are constantly competing for attention and in the midst of trying to be heard, the volume in our house rivals that of Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. It seems so counter intuitive, but my guess is that you see this same thing play out every day, not only with your customers, but with your employees as well.

As we think about both our employees and customers, we have to understand this fundamental fact — people want to be heard. They want someone to acknowledge what they are going through and that their wants and needs are valid. In our sales training, which is available in our Dealer Toolbox, we talk about “Active Listening”. Active Listening is a skill that we have to learn, and when we put it into action, it allows our customers as well as our employees to feel heard.

So, how do you practice Active Listening?

Active Listening is not done by coming up with your rebuttal during the conversation – quite the opposite is true. Active Listening is about listening to understand what is being fully communicated through body language, verbal cues, and the words being said. This is a technique that hostage negotiators use during negotiations. I’m sure you sometimes feel like hostage negotiators in your dealership, so this may work for you!

Here’s an example that you may run into in your dealership:  Let’s say you have a customer who has walked up to the parts counter to pick up a special-order part and it’s not there.  The customer might say, “I can’t believe you don’t have this part in yet.” Active listening would start by looking at the body language of the person. Are his arms crossed or uncrossed? Is he leaning on something? Find a way to match the body language of the person you are listening to, it will allow them to relax.

You can also stay engaged in what the other person is saying by looking at them directly. Other distractions in your environment, such as your phone or other customers walking in and waving, cause you to not fully listen. What verbal cues are being given to what is being said, and how can you offer verbal cues back? Respond with phrases like, “I see” or “uh huh.”

The final part of Active Listening is the words that are being said. By clarifying what is being said in your own words, you allow the other person to provide any additional clarification to something that was not heard correctly. My guess is that you, as an owner or a manager, are already doing most of this without even realizing it.

Our ultimate goal is to create an experience for our customers that makes them feel heard and understood in our dealership. We never want them to feel like an inconvenience for us, and one of the easy ways we can do that is through practicing Active Listening.