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An insightful extract of a newsletter by Jim Wigg. Check him out here. He’s one of the good guys!

Happy Ears

Clear blue skies, glorious sunshine, burnt orange leaves, golden brown ferns and not a breath of wind – what an amazing weekend we picked to be in the Lake District with my mum (although Sandra, my wife, will tell you in that smug way “it’s always sunny when I’m in the lakes!”).

Now, you may remember the last time I mentioned a trip to the mountains (Sphere Issue 2) we met a very nice lady who we called VNL (who sold me a very nice rucksack VNR). Unfortunately, on this trip we met another kind of VNL – but with a very different word for the N. You’ll work it out in a minute!

On arrival at our cosy little B&B in Coniston we were greeted by the landlady. She was saying all the right landlady-ish words, eg “have you had a nice walk?”, “if there is anything you need…” etc but something was wrong, they weren’t coming out with any warmth – in fact, they were positively arctic.

To illustrate this, let’s play a game with the next thing VNL said to us. Please stand in front of a mirror, put a big beaming smile on your face and say aloud “let me show you how the keypad on the front door works”. Congratulations, what a good host you make! Now, purse your lips tightly together and repeat again “let me show you how the keypad on the front door works”. Notice the difference? Same words, very different result and no prizes for guessing which one we received from VNL!

So, “what does this have to do with Happy Ears?” I can hear you saying. Happy Ears is a term often used to describe what people listen with (especially salespeople) if they are overly optimistic about what clients say to them. This can have two forms:

1. Listening for what they want to hear (the right words) rather than
the underlying message
2. Interpreting what is said as meaning something more

It’s the first one that VNL highlights so beautifully. Clearly this was an extreme example but if you’d listened to what she was saying with happy ears (which would have been easy as we were having such a nice weekend) you’d probably be thinking how helpful and friendly she was. Needless to say this wasn’t the experience my poor old mum got when she had a problem with the shower in the morning!

Developing the ability to observe and spot signals, as well as listen, is a key skill in business. It can give you early warnings signs of what’s to come or an opportunity to uncover a ‘golden nugget’ – a key piece of information – if you spot the signal and ask an appropriate question.

VNL was an in-your-face reminder of the 55/38/7 research that found face-to-face communication is made up of 55% body language, 38% tone of voice and only 7% words. It also reminds us where to look for signals – body language and tone.

Here’s a simple exercise. Pretend you are a client who has just been given an idea by a supplier. They now ask you the question “what do you think?” Practice giving the same response “yes it looks good” a number of times with different body language and tone. Show things like enthusiasm, hesitancy, reservations etc but keep the same words. Each time you give the response think what you’d expect the supplier to say back to and you’ll get a new perspective on what to ask next time you spot a signal in a business meeting.

Happy spotting (not happy ears)!

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