If your most important clients could grade you on the following listening skills report, how well would you score?

My advisor gives his/her undivided attention when I am talking. A  B  C  D  E
My advisor is tuned into me rather than thinking of his/her own response. A  B  C  D  E
My advisor answers in a way that reflects my major concerns. A  B  C  D  E
My advisor keeps the conversation focused on my needs, issues, and concerns. A  B  C  D  E
My advisor summarizes and provides a personalized plan for my needs and concerns. A  B  C  D  E

Let’s be honest. We are all guilty at times of being poor listeners. One irony of this profession is that the field naturally attracts many enterprising and motivated individuals who have short attention spans and are given to impatience—yet success hinges on the ability to tune in to others. Neither of these features––professional-level ADD or impatience––aids in the development of better listening skills. All professionals must constantly check their conversational impulses when interacting with clients. Knowing your client’s story is essential to not only their success, but yours as well.

Just because you may not be a great listener by nature does not mean you can’t learn. By approaching listening skills as both a discipline and a habit, you will eventually conquer your impulses to monopolize a conversation with a client. Becoming a better listener will reap greater rewards including satisfaction and fulfillment, as well as more impactful relationships with your clients.

Here are some of the mistakes that individuals with underdeveloped listening skills make during conversations:

  • They start the meeting with feature/benefit statements without knowing if those features and benefits are even relevant to the client. A chief temptation is to jump too early into a presentation.
  • They grandstand with witty comments, stories, and opinions at the expense of the other person’s stories and opinions.
  • They focus more on facts than on feelings, instead of balancing both.
  • They obsess over details, causing them to miss the point or the big picture of what someone is trying to say.
  • They are not in control of nervous or uptight body language signals.
  • They focus on their own responses rather than on the person speaking.

Do any of these sound familiar to you?

Who doesn’t occasionally trespass into these boundaries of self-indulgence or self-interest? Tight schedules, demanding goals, and demanding clients can combine to take us off our best listening game if we are not vigilant regarding empathetic behavior. Ultimately, it is our discipline in these little matters that defines our destiny.

Ironically, these internal issues and distractions do not dissuade those who are genuinely and confidently curious. Why? Because their agendas are different. There is so much that the truly curious want to know that they become completely absorbed in the other party’s story. They are not asking questions to set up canned monologues. They are asking because they have a real appetite to understand their clients and how they might best be able to help them.


The best sales professionals know that more important than having a shoe to sell is first having an accurate measurement of their client’s foot, understanding the type of walking the client does, and learning the particular stresses that the client experiences. In other words, they understand the context within which they sell. Their context is not, “I have a shoe, and you have a foot,” but, “You have a need, and I may have a solution.” Service is based on serving, and the truly curious are not prematurely distracted by the fact that they have an attractive product to sell.

Knowing your client’s story helps to ensure those clients will be happy with what you are offering them. The most successful advisors don’t just talk, they listen. This is why your level of curiosity will determine how much contextual information you gather, how much you understand your clients’ motives, how closely you can link their needs with your service, and how long and strong this relationship will become.


Adapted from Your Client’s Story: Know Your Clients and the Rest Will Follow, Second Edition by Scott West and Mitch Anthony.