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Listening To Your Customers - Part 2

Furniture World Magazine


Second in a series of chapters on listening to your customer's needs and responding appropriately.

Editor's note: This article is the second in a series on listening by Peter Marino. Dr. Marino believes that listening is a learned skill that lies at the heart of successful selling. The entire manual will be published early next year as a FURNITURE WORLD sales educational guide with chapter titles as follows: Striving for Significance; Bridging the Space That Divides Us; The Need to Listen; The Benefits of Listening; Defining Good Listening; The Listener's Responses; Nonverbal Responses; Verbal Responses; Clarifying; Confirming; Acknowledging; Balanced Feedback and the Exploring of Ideas; Further Barriers to Listening; and The Satir Modes.

In his book, "How to Sell Yourself to Others," published in 1947, Elmer Wheeler, the then most noted American salesman of his day, stated that according to psychiatrist Adler our most important human need is the need to feel important. By a process of elimination, I assume that Wheeler was referring to the Austrian born Alfred Adler (1870-1937) who lectured widely in the United States and had several works of his edited and published in English. One of these, "What Life Should Mean to You", was published in 1931. Adler dedicated that work, "to the human family in the hope that its members may learn from these pages to understand themselves better." By "human family" Adler of course meant the entire human race.

If the statement attributed to psychologist Adler by Elmer Wheeler is in fact one made by Alfred Adler, then it would seem proper to put it in its proper context, that is, within the context of his psychology of the meaning of human life. Like so many psychiatrists, Adler was keenly interested in the subject of human neurosis. Having observed a number of his patients who suffered from severe forms of neurosis, he concluded that their illnesses resulted from their failure to follow the correct way of striving for significance. Human beings generally strive to fulfill their need to feel important in either of two distinct ways.
The wrong way, according to Adler ­ consists of focusing entirely on ourselves, with no regard for the needs of others. That way leads to a lack of trust and cooperation with others. That same lack of trust and cooperation ultimately leads to a lack of self-trust as well. Such people, Adler wrote, tend to lack the appreciation and affection of others. As a result, the very need they seek to fulfill ­ the striving for significance ­ is the very need they fail to fulfill.

The right way, according to Adler ­ is that by which human beings strive to cooperate with others and help them to fulfill their needs. That is the fundamental thesis of Adler's: we can only find our meaning in life ­ occupational, social and sexual ­ by working to improve the overall condition of mankind, in short, by leaving the world a somewhat better place to live than we found it.

What does all this have to do with listening? Everything, once we are willing to accept the statement that all human beings have a yearning to be listened to, especially if we understand that yearning as a basic human need. Such a yearning must mean that we subconsciously feel that unless we are listened to, we find it virtually impossible to fulfill the need to feel important. But here is the rub. Unless we are willing to listen to others, we will not be listened to with anything approaching consistency. Listening falls within what we might refer to as the law of reciprocity, as much a law as that which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, but with an important difference. The law of equal and opposite reaction carries with it, at times, the notion of destruction upon the impact of two opposing forces. Not so in the case of the reciprocity of those who listen to each other. On the contrary, reciprocity in listening carries with it all the potential for synergy, teamwork, collaboration, and win-win, namely, that of two individuals not only both of them winning, but both of them winning at a higher level than if each of them had gone it alone. If this is true, then it follows logically that none of us can fulfill the need we have to feel important unless we habitually experience reciprocal listening.

Bridging the Space That Divides Us

In his "The Lost Art of Listening," psychologist Michael Nichols states that the yearning to be listened to is at its deepest, a yearning to escape our separateness and bridge the space that divides us. The space that divides us, we should note, comprises all that either promotes or hinders being listened to and understood. In this series of articles we shall examine that space with the intention of helping retail salespeople to use it as a medium for good rather than for poor listening.

Long before it became fashionable among the experts on interpersonal communication to talk about the space between us, the Austrian born philosopher, theologian, and anthropologist Martin Buber (1878-1965) had spent the major portion of his scholarly life on that subject. In particular he was intrigued with what he called the inter-human element of dialogue, the BETWEEN. Nor was his a scholarly pursuit alone. He spent the final twenty-seven years in Israel striving to bring Jews and Arabs into dialogue. When Martin Buber passed away, an envoy of Palestinians placed a wreath on his grave as a token of their deep respect and appreciation for his zealous efforts at trying to bring Arabs and Jews together in peace and harmony.

In his "I and Thou" written in 1923, Buber stated that the meaning of dialogue was to be found not in one partner nor in both together but only in the between which they live together. Thus, for Martin Buber, dialogue, however short or long, is a living together. It is within that intervening space that the most fruitful part of dialogue takes place because therein is contained the interhuman element which is essentially something apart from the psychological phenomenon which accompanies it.
Martin Buber's essential message is clear: while genuine dialogue is a free choice we all can make or not make, we cannot choose to avoid genuine dialogue without dire consequences, that is, without terrible losses to our inner development as human beings. While listening is not dialogue as such, listening plays a vital role in dialogue. What John Stewart wrote about communication might equally apply to listening, namely, that although it "can help us develop trust, clarify an idea, obtain a job, make a sale, get an 'A' and make the right group decision," what is even more fundamental is that "it affects your development as a person." What can be more important for us than that which helps us develop as persons? That is the most important reason why we should strive to learn to listen. Were listening as natural as hearing, we would not need to strive to learn the skill of listening. As we shall read in following issues, the skill of listening is not natural. It must first be learned and then acquired by constant practice.
The mark of contemporary man is that he does not truly listen.

Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at pmarino@furninfo.com.