THE LOST ART OF LISTENING & THE DIRECT CONSEQUENCE ON YOUR INDEPENDENT AND ASSISTED LIVING SALES PERFORMANCE, REVENUE AND FUTURE VIABILITY
American culture glamourizes talking. Everyone it seems is an expert; from morning and late-night talk show hosts and news anchors, to TED talk presenters, and Sirius XM Radio personalities. People are never at a loss for words.
Yet rare is the individual who knows how to listen.
The goal of this book is to teach you to become a professional listener and I can promise you this, it will be a game changer both personally and professionally. Listening, more than any other activity plugs you into life. It helps you understand yourself as much as those speaking to you.
From the time we are babies, we are alert to the human voice and tuned into its nuances, harmonies, and discordances.
Hearing is one of the last senses you lose before you die. Our desire to have our brains synch, or to connect, with another person is basic and innate to who we are, we all crave it and it’s how we find friends, create partnerships, advance ideas, and fall in love.
According to author Kate Murphy, hearing is passive while listening is active. The best listeners focus their attention and use other senses in their efforts. Their brains work hard to process all that incoming information and find meaning, which opens the door to creativity, empathy, insight, and knowledge. Understanding is the goal of listening, and it takes effort. When you listen and really get what another person is saying, your brain waves and those of the person speaking are literally in synch.
MOST PEOPLE ARE POOR LISTENERS AND IT’S THE ONE SKILL PEOPLE HAVE HAD THE LEAST TRAINING IN
Various studies stress the importance of listening as a communication skill. A typical study points out that many of us spend 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours in some form of communication. Of that time, we spend about-
- 9% writing
- 16% reading
- 30% speaking
- 45% listening
Studies also confirm that most of us are poor and inefficient listeners. Even though listening is the communication skill we use most frequently, it is also the skill in which we’ve had the least training.
WE TRAIN PEOPLE HOW TO SPEAK, WRITE AND READ YET NOT TO ACTIVELY LISTEN
Perhaps you were on the debate team in high school or took a creative writing or speed-reading course. Most of us have had much more formal training in major communication skills such as writing, reading, and speaking rather than listening. In fact, very few people have had any extended formal training in listening .
Another reason for poor listening skills is that you and I can think faster than someone else can speak. Most of us speak at the rate of about 125 words per minute yet we have the mental capacity to understand someone speaking at 400 words per minute (if that were possible). This difference between speaking speed and thought speed means that when we listen to the average speaker, we’re using only 25 percent of our mental capacity. We still have 75 percent to do something else with. So, our minds will wander.
We need to make a real effort to listen carefully and concentrate more of our mental capacity on the act of listening. If we don’t concentrate, we soon find that our minds have turned to other ideas.
Developing good listening skills is important, especially when it comes to building strong professional and personal relationships in the seniors housing and care environment. Being an effective listener means engaging your ears and your brain, so you’re tuned in to what’s being said – something that takes time to learn how to do.
MYSTERY SHOPS CONSISTENTLY DEMONSTRATE THE CONSEQUENCES OF FAILING TO LISTEN
Nine out of ten mystery shops we conduct here at Bild & Co demonstrate that salespeople fail to listen when engaging in conversation with a prospective independent or assisted living buyer. The result is the inability to connect and feel or demonstrate empathy, to be creative in problem solving or to have real insight into what is happening in the life of those inquiring about the community. So rather than create urgency and feel compelled to fight on behalf of the senior, salespeople go into order taking mode and ramble off activities, staffing ratios, apartment square footage, pricing, discounts offered and close by offering to send a bundle of information via email with a, “call me when you get the information” or “let me know when you’re ready.”
It’s so sad because most people calling an independent, assisted living or continuum of care community don’t know what they need, do not understand the difference between independent and assisted living or life plan and entry fees; that’s why they’re calling. They need professional advice and help. So rather than feeling informed, most people walk away from a discussion with a seniors housing salesperson more confused than when they first engaged in conversation.
Numerous tests confirm that we are inefficient listeners. Studies have shown that immediately after listening to a 10-minute oral presentation, the average listener has heard, understood and retained 50 percent of what was said.
Within 48 hours, that drops off another 50 percent to a final level of 25 percent efficiency.
In other words, we often comprehend and retain only one fourth of what we hear. We all want to be more than 25 percent efficient. It’s not difficult to see the many problems inefficient listeners can create for themselves and others. Poor listening causes us many personal and professional problems.
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO THE ABILITY TO LISTEN?
Our culture makes it hard for people to listen even in the best of circumstances. Among the most frequently cited bad listening behaviors (and we all know people who do this) are:
- Responding vaguely to what was just said
- Looking at a phone, watch, around the room or away from the speaker
I’ll never forget having lunch with a friend I had not seen in years. I was so excited to see her and upon sitting down she pulled out her cell phone and proceeded to take calls, answer text, and rudely interrupt our conversation incessantly by fidgeting with her device. I was so upset that I vowed never to meet with her again and I haven’t. It was rude, she wasn’t vested in our conversation and I felt disrespected.
Once upon a time, people used to sit outside on their front porch, around the dinner table or over a cup of tea and talk. As a culture we slowly got too busy to enjoy indulgences like these and the art of conversation fell to the wayside. Today, people are more likely to text, tweet or post their thoughts on social media while at the dinner table. It’s rare for people to dive into a deep, extended conversation. Instead we pass around our phones to show one another pictures rather than describing it ourselves. If someone tells a story that goes beyond 30 seconds, heads bow, and people lose interest as they begin to scroll through news and social media feeds.
Maybe now with COVID-19 in play that will change because we’ve been forced to slow down and revaluate. Never has it been more important to re-learn to listen particularly as it relates to the sales and marketing of your assisted living or independent living community. Doing so can be a game changer and lead to drastically increased sales because people are afraid and more than anything, they want to be heard.
A TRAGIC LOSS NOT LOST ON YOUR PROSPECTIVE RESIDENTS
One of the biggest failures seniors housing operators make is failing to instill the skill set of listening and curiosity into the very people responsible for courting new residents. An 87 year old woman who is vulnerable and being told she can no longer stay in her home is more interested in having a conversation with someone who is sincerely interested, who is curious about her life, experiences, family, past as well as her future plans than a brand new purpose built senior living community that is equipped with the latest technology.
Yes, this is nice, but it can’t compete with the power of emotion that is evoked when two people truly connect and are vested in one another. We aren’t selling buildings; we are selling experiences and for most people these will be the final ones they have.
OUR OCCUPANCY PROBLEMS GO FAR BEYOND COVID-19
Have you ever listened to your salespeople on an inquiry call, virtual tour, follow up call or in person visit? What you hear will help you understand why your numbers are flat or declining.
In this executive series it is critical that you begin to pay attention to the conversations happening with prospective buyers of your senior living community. You will begin to understand why occupancy is at a record low and you can’t blame it solely on covid. There is much more happening that is wreaking having on your bottom line- from consistently missed inquiry calls, uninterested salespeople, canned video tours emailed with a litany of attachments, lack of follow up and in truth, total disinterest in those individuals calling in their time of need. Order taking is great but this business doesn’t need customer service agents, it needs professionally trained salespeople who understand how to listen, drill down and respond with specific solutions that ensure people feel heard.
CAN LISTENING BE TAUGHT?
Listening is about the experience of being experienced. It’s when someone takes an interest in who you are and what you are doing. The lack of being known and accepted in this way leads to feelings of inadequacy and emptiness. What makes people feel lonely and isolated in life is the missed opportunity to connect when you weren’t listening, or someone wasn’t really listening to you.
I know that people can learn to listen because my team here at Bild & Co has been teaching people how to successfully communicate for two decades and when done properly, in a sales environment, it has an immediate impact on sales.
When is the last time someone said to you, “tell me what you mean by that” or “tell me more, please, I’m trying to put myself in your shoes to better understand how you feel.” These types of statements take people by total surprise. Used to being rushed, interrupted, or having a phone pulled out; people tend to neglect sharing things that are personal. Yet when you give them the space to do so, they open up and oftentimes don’t stop talking.
Want to drastically shorten the sales cycle, create a better buyer experience, and increase the volume of move ins? Improve your sales process and start by introducing listening skills. Teach your salespeople to slow down and hear what people are saying so they can emotionally connect, feel empathy, and advise on the next step in the process. Even better is that people will fall in love with their jobs again because they’ll remember what it’s like to really make a difference by helping more people!