Listening is a skill that all marketers must develop. Or, perhaps more accurately, redevelop.

s1ng0 via Flickr CC

Most people are born with the ability to hear and, over time, interpret what’s being said. Somewhere along the line we get so consciously competent at hearing that we no longer feel the need to listen.

I believe that one of the master skills of any marketer, manager, or educator is the ability to listen perceptively to what our prospects, customers, staff and community members are saying. And I further believe this is something we all have to work at.

So, what is perceptive listening?

People that teach this sort of thing might say there are many forms of listening.

Passive listening – the kind we do when we are listening to a seminar but we’re really scrolling through Pinterest.

Selective listening – the kind that I might practice when I’m discussing something with someone and mostly I’m thinking about what I’m going say next.

Active listening – the kind where we are discussing something with someone and reacting only to the words being said.

Perceptive listening – the kind where I hear and interpret the words, but I also consider what the person is thinking and perhaps how they are acting as they say the words.

Perceptive listening is by far the most complex because it requires you to be totally focused, completely mindful and, well, perceptive of what’s really going on.

Perceptive listening is also something the party being listened to can feel. We’ve all grown pretty numb to act of conversing with people while they divide their attention between our words and their iPhone.

Perceptive listening is how you tell when a prospect says they’re not ready to buy, but what they are really saying is they don’t understand the benefits.

Perceptive listening is how you mentor an employee. It’s how you draw out what they are truly passionate about. It’s how you help them self manage and lead.

I believe you can even use perceptive listening to monitor the things you say to yourself. When you are mindful enough to stop and witness your own thoughts and perceive how they truly make you feel, your actions will be much more perceptive.

Effective listening can be learned and takes practice. It’s a habit of sorts, just like multi tasking is a habit.

Below are five exercises that I challenge you to undertake in an effort to first experience your level of perceptive listening and bring this art front and center in everything you do.

Listening to a client

Make a list of five clients you respect and would like to understand better. Set a time to sit down with them and ask them these three questions. Make certain that you give their answers your full attention and pay close attention to how they answer, including their body language.

  1. What’s the one thing you love about what we do?
  2. If you referred us to a friend what would you say?
  3. What’s the biggest challenge you have in your business right now?

Listening to a staff member

You know the drill now, but this time choose a member of your staff that you would like to develop further and start with these questions.

  1. What’s the one thing you love most about coming to work here?
  2. If you referred us to a friend what would you say?
  3. What’s the biggest challenge you have in meeting your objectives right now?

Listening to yourself

This might be the toughest act yet, but sit down and ponder these questions posed to yourself and pay attention to how you feel about the answers. You aren’t really looking for right or wrong answers I don’t think, you’re merely checking for cracks in the alignment.

  1. What’s the one thing you love most about what you do?
  2. Why do you really do what you do?
  3. If you could do anything you wanted, would this be it?

Listening in space

Put on a piece of instrumental music. (If you’re looking for a suggestion you can’t go wrong with a Bach cello concerto.) Close your eyes and try to focus on the rests and spaces between the notes only. Listen keenly for what musicians refer to as grace notes, the little half played notes that flick inside a pause or come in between a beat.

This is a completely different way to listen to music and I think it can help tune your sensitivity to the art of listening to the complete story.

You can’t have art or music without this negative space and I think the same is true when it comes to perceptive listening.

Listening in space 2

Another exercise I love to do is to sit somewhere in a room and close my eyes. Once I kind of empty my thoughts I start actively listening for the sounds right around me – the water running in the pipes, the printer, a stereo playing.

Next I try to move my listening out farther to focus on the street sounds – the cars passing by, the construction work across the street, people coming and going.

Finally, I try to move my listening out as far as I can. Through this targeted listening I can perceive an airplane overhead and a train slowly rumbling through another part of town.

Some of the exercises above might seem like odd ways to get better at marketing, but marketing is mostly about listening to and understanding what’s really going on all around you.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Glenn Wallis

    Some nice practices here John, to help sharpen listening skills, thank you. In my experience clients benefit from challenging themselves over their level of intent they are willing to bring to paying attention really effectively. Knowing and doing seem to be often separated by will.

  • Craig-

    I gleened some valuable information today and learned something about myself. As someone who is new to marketing and building his client base, I find that my insecurities/nervousness leads me to selective listening. I’m so concentrated on keeping the conversation going that I’m not retaining what my client is always telling me.

    • anytime you learn something about yourself it’s time well spent – I think that kind of selective listening you talk about is very common – I remember when I first starting speaking in front of audiences I was so worried about what to say that I didn’t read the audience as I was saying it.

  • Hi John,

    Your listening tips are help because the advice trains you to tune in.

    I like sitting in stillness and observing all manner of thoughts and feelings running through my mind. You see immediately what you are choosing to tune in to, and your awareness expands.

    After practicing this technique I am able to better notice when I am perceptively listening to someone or when I am simply hearing, with an inward-thinking agenda.

    Thanks for sharing with us.


  • Redevelop. For me it’s really an accurate term. I’m sure some of us are so busy to enhance our listening skills because we had to rush everything most of the time, and forgot what’s really important – – that would make our jobs easier and lighter in closing millions of deals and serving the clients well. And that is simply listening or perceptive listening.  The concern and the sincerity has to be there in order for us to fully understand and give our undivided attention to the speaker. Thanks for the reminder John.

  • Yuri Amadin

    Awesome insights and thank you very much for this. Since 2006 I have been practicing on how to listen better. I found that questions are the answers and to find that perceptive listening is the key. Thanks

  • Great Read!! Ironically listening is the hardest thing to do. Almost all think they are undoubtedly the best listeners but this is not true. Most importantly while being a listener your wits need to be sharp enough to respond appropriately. You need to be involved with the person. Excellent piece of advice here John.

  • Super important skills for anyone today.  Our attentions are so fragmented by all the noise around us its critical we develop the discipline of listening well.  Thanks for the tips.

  • I agree listening is hard! Sometimes i think i am excellent at it, than I realize i was thinking about myself( and how well I listen) not actually listening. To truly listen it means putting perceptions aside, confirming understanding and also noticing all the nuances like body language.

  • Listening (not just hearing) truly is a skill that takes practice and acute awareness. I think it would be most useful to take a workshop or course in active listening or neurolinguistic programming. Either way of listening would no doubt increase sales.
    Another listening problem is that a good number of people misunderstand what is being said, because their brain is not processing words they hear correctly. If someone tells you they took their family to visit a “cavern” and your brain interprets it as “tavern”, now that’s embarrassing. Or a speaker at a seminar might sound to the listener a bit like Charlie Brown’s teacher – “Wa, wa, wa.” What a waste of time. Then there is the issue of understanding conversation when there are multiple people talking at a networking event. Can you imagine how fixing your auditory processing problem might also increase sales?

    • Hi Diane! Well said. I agree with you. As you said, Listening is a skill that is very hard but is very important.