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Be an active listener.


The most important thing you can do when facing a customer, or anyone for that matter, is to engage in active listening. There is no greater way of displaying respect than listening attentively to what people have to say.  Lean forward to show interest. Establish eye contact. Resist the temptation to glance at your watch. Devote full attention to the speaker.

The onus is on the listener to avoid prejudging, daydreaming, interrupting, criticizing the speaker’s delivery, reacting to emotional words and being distracted by the environment.

Focused listening can save time as well as improve communication and personal relationships.  Show interest by giving the person your full attention. Listen for the ideas and don’t be distracted by the way the ideas are expressed. Half listening can waste time, cause stress because you lose track of what has been said, strain the speaker-listener relationship and result in costly misunderstandings.

People talk at roughly 125 words a minute while we listen at speeds over four times that fast. Since our minds must be busy doing something, we go on little mental excursions. We find ourselves thinking about other things. To prevent this from happening, let your “extracurricular thinking” revolve around the speaker’s comments. Think about the conclusions that he or she will probably arrive at, the evidence that supports claims being made, how the opinions stack up against those of other people you’ve listened to. Mentally review the points covered to date. In other words, keep focusing on what is being said at the time.

Limit your own talking, except to ask questions, and don’t let your mind wander. When you do speak, gain the respect of your clients more quickly by speaking more slowly. Since most people listen at only 25 percent of their capacity, you can improve communications by actually using the word “listen” in your conversation.  This periodic reminder will stimulate their listening.  Example: “Listen John, if I were to…..” The use of the word “listen” has been shown to have a positive impact on their listening.

There’s more to effective listening than meets the ear. It’s hard work. It requires an active participation in the communication process. It takes effort, practice. And it requires that we break habits that have been forming since childhood. One such habit is interrupting the speaker. We want to finish the speaker’s sentence for him or her either aloud or to ourselves. We’re impatient. Sometimes we can’t even tolerate pauses in the conversation. We want to rush in with our own words or thoughts. Even when we are not speaking, we’re frequently not listening. We are rehearsing what we are going to say in turn.

Effective listening can be learned. It requires greater mental application because it is an active skill. But like anything else, the right kind of practice makes perfect. So slow down, be patient, and lend an ear – maybe two.

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When listening, use your eyes as well as your ears.

We communicate with our whole body and our actions and behaviours must be consistent with what we are saying. Although the oft-used figures that came from Albert Mehrabian’s experiments have been convincingly debunked long ago, it is normally agreed that our body language has a huge impact on our credibility when we deliver a message.

Body language is mostly unconscious communication using facial expressions, gestures, body movements, postures and so on – that either reinforce or contradict what we are saying. When it contradicts, it is usually wise to believe the nonverbal clues since they are not as easily disguised as the words. The words are what others want us to believe; but the real meaning is in the way those words are delivered.

When communicating, be aware of whether your arms are crossed or you are avoiding eye contact or frequently glancing somewhere else or speaking in a monotone. If you are telling people you are really enthusiastic about an idea, but there is no enthusiasm in your voice, they are unlikely to believe you.

Talk slowly and distinctly. Don’t rush when you’re asking questions. There is nothing more frustrating than being asked a question and not having enough time to respond. As trainers we are told to follow the 7-Second Rule. Allow at least 7 seconds for the response to a question before continuing with the message.

According to David Niven, in his book, 100 simple secrets of successful people, people rate speakers who speak more slowly as being 38% more knowledgeable than speakers who speak more quickly.

The recently discovered mirror neuron system is now believed to play a major role in our ability to interpret body language. Mirror neurons are those brain cells that fire both when we perform an activity ourselves and when we observe someone else performing the same activity.

Some researchers believe that mirror neurons help us relate, and interpret facial expressions, mannerisms and even the moods and emotions of others. We should be aware of other people’s body language when we are listening to them talk. It could either reinforce our confidence in what they are actually saying or put doubt in our minds as to the truth in what they say.

Effective listeners do not only focus on what a person says; but on the way the person says it. Use your eyes as well as your ears.

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7 habits of proactive people

Proactive means acting beforehand. Taking action in the present will influence things in the future, perhaps even the future itself. So always think ahead. Practice those habits exhibited by proactive people. Set goals. Schedule time for important activities. Plan daily. Use checklists. Review results, continually make adjustments to improve future outcomes. Plan long range. And maintain the right attitude. There is power in being proactive.

Proactive people are always looking ahead at future activities, projects and events and anticipating needs, problems and possible outcomes. Here are seven habits they have acquired that enable them to tackle almost any situation.

  1. Set goals. Proactive people hold planning sessions with themselves as well as with others, and set specific goals for the future. They not only put them in writing, along with deadline dates, they schedule time in their planners to actually work on them. By doing this, they are helping to create their own future as opposed to reacting to unplanned events.
  • Schedule time for important activities. Proactive people use planners as they are supposed to use them – to record future events and to schedule time for priority tasks and activities. By being able to view the future, they are able to anticipate possible problems and act before they can occur. Just looking at an event such as a scheduled meeting in writing, sets your mind thinking about things you will need for that meeting.
  • Plan daily. Ideally you will have scheduled your priority activities a week ahead, leaving unscheduled time each day for those important and urgent tasks and activities that inevitably pop up throughout the week. But you may have to do some juggling in order to fit them all in. Don’t let a priority activity be replaced without first rescheduling it to another time slot. And never replace a scheduled activity with a less important one. Remember that the good is the enemy of the best.
  • Use checklists. Proactive people make up checklists for all repetitive events or activities, such as meetings, travel, conferences, sales calls, workshops and interviews. These checklists are updated if necessary after every event. If anything was missed, it is added to the list so that it won’t be forgotten the next time. Checklists save time and money and prevent errors.
  • Review results. Proactive people don’t just follow through with planned tasks and events, they follow up as well, and make sure the value received was worth the time and effort expended. This ensures that they are indeed completing the 20% of the tasks that yield 80% of the results. Always question whether you are making the best possible use of your time.
  •  Plan long range. Proactive people recognize that it’s never too early to plan, and that planning too late causes crises and time problems. If the Titanic had started turning sooner, it never would have hit the iceberg. Small adjustments made earlier avoid large adjustments having to be made at the last minute.
  • Maintain the right attitude. The most important weapon that proactive people have at their disposal is their attitude or state of mind. In fact, it could be called a way of life. Proactive people wouldn’t think of making a telephone call without first jotting down the items for discussion or going to the supermarket without first making a list of the items they need. They don’t resent looking at a map before taking a trip or reading the instructions before assembling a swing set.

Proactive people maintain their cool, avoid stress, and never let other people’s lack of planning become their crises. They don’t accept assignments without realistic deadlines, and never accept ASAP in place of an actual date. They are organized, efficient, and respect other people’s time as well as their own.


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Are you feeling overwhelmed?

When we are confronted with multiple priorities, all of which seem to be urgent, we sometimes freeze – like a deer caught in the headlights. It’s a case of paralysis by analysis as we try to decide where to start.

If this happens to you, stop and take a deep breath, and write down all the priorities that currently confront you. As you read the resulting list out loud you will realize that you can’t overestimate the unimportance of everything. If it’s not life threatening, it’s not really that important.

This step is essential because you can’t be effective while in a panic mode.

Once you have convinced yourself that it’s not the end of the world, recognize that you can’t do everything at the same time. Nor can you do all things for all people. So begin the task of prioritizing.

With the purpose of your organization in mind, number the tasks in order of their importance. Don’t be concerned with their urgency unless it’s a tie. It doesn’t matter how urgent the task is if it’s really not that important. It’s important only if it furthers the goals of your organization. Hopefully you already have a written mission statement, policies and procedures, and specific goals for the year. If not, look after that little matter immediately.

If someone drops a jar of pickles on the floor as your store is about to open, you wouldn’t clean up the mess before you open the doors if your purpose included serving customers by selling groceries. Which option do you think would be of greater benefit to your customers, a spotless floor or access to the items they need?

If there are some items on your list that are urgent, but not important, ignore them and they will soon disappear. You can refer to that as “management by neglect” or “planned neglect.” You may find a few that are both urgent and important. By “urgent” I mean if you don’t take action right away, you will lose the goal-related benefit that task would have provided. You must schedule time in the immediate future to see that these tasks are completed. Hopefully there is someone other than yourself to whom you can delegate a few of these tasks.

You will probably find that the majority of the important tasks are not that urgent. You can schedule time to do these in the weeks ahead and still reap the rewards. If you don’t already schedule “appointments with yourself” to get important things done, do so. Otherwise your planning calendar will soon be filled with other people’s priorities rather than your own. It’s a lot easier to say “no” to others when you already have an appointment blocked off in your planner.

No doubt you will want to do them all, even if it’s physically impossible to do so. That’s only natural. After all, they might all be good things to do. But the good things can become the enemy of the best things if they distract you from your purpose for being in business. If you have competent employees, do what you do best and delegate the rest. If your employees aren’t competent enough to do them, add one more item on your list of important items – training. A small company’s success frequently rises to the level of its weakest employee.