If there is one skill I’ve picked up from working in the web design industry for the last 10 years, one skill that I would teach myself on day one and one skill that I would take with me and apply to any other industry or profession, it’s simply… “listen”.

Never under estimate the power of shutting up and just listening for a while.

Here is a scenario that I witnessed not so long ago. Picture the scene:

You’re a novice web designer sitting with your 3rd or 4th client. They want a website with some slightly more complex functionality. You can either:-

a) have them quickly mention it and you dismiss it and instead talk and talk about code and how you could copy this and paste it here and hash these bits from another project…

or…

b) shut up… listen. Let the customer tell you exactly how they envision it. Let them go into as much detail as possible. You’re allowed to chime in on occasion… but only when you think they’ve stopped talking.

By listening to everything they’ve said and NOT interrupting them we’ve allowed them to spill out everything they are thinking. But there’s a secret to this technique that no one teaches you…

If you allow a person to speak for, let’s say, 10 minutes uninterrupted then the first minute or so will be rehearsed. It will be what they’ve gone over in their head prior to having this discussion with you. After 4 minutes they’ll have likely said everything they had intended, but can see that you’re eager for more so will try to keep going.

Now here is the clincher…

The back end of those 10 minutes is where the real truth and purpose comes out. They are on a flow and they start to forget all about what they had structured previously and they’re now just riffing. This is the brilliance of this skill because now you’ve got them into a situation where they’ve opened up, they are now much more trusting of you to hear what is really going on in their head and not what they think you want to hear (or only what they wanted to tell you).

Have you ever heard of the principle of asking the same question 3 times? You tend to hear about it more in a sales environment.

The idea here is that you intentionally ask the same question 3 times throughout the conversation. The reason? Exactly the same as letting someone talk for 10 minutes.

The first answer is one they’ve constructed. The second is partly constructed and the 3rd is usually the truth.

A recent conversation I had with someone looking to sell their house, I asked them why they were looking to sell. Yep… 3 times!

Answer 1: “we feel it’s time to sell and move on.”

Answer 2: “things have changed and we want to sell up and move on.”

Answer 3: “my husband has left me, I can’t afford the mortgage and I want to move on with my life and start a fresh.”

Why is it better to know the latter? I now understand her story. I know the real reason for the sale, I can now show compassion for her situation and maybe there is a solution I can offer her that someone else wouldn’t have thought about. Why do I now have this ‘advantage’? Because I asked 3 times.

And when I say I asked 3 times… I don’t mean I asked 3 times in a row. I spread asking the question over the duration or viewing her house and I structured the question differently each time to fit into the natural flow of the conversation rather than being direct.

When you give people a chance to really open up and tell you what is REALLY in their mind it opens you up to all sorts of possibilities or opportunities that you may never have thought possible.

So the next time you find yourself in a situation where you’re talking to someone do yourself and them a favour… shut up and listen.