How to improve sales rep performance Part 4 - Tips to becoming a better listener


🎤Listen, do you want to know a secret?
🎤Do you promise not to tell? Whoa oh, oh.

I don’t mind if you tell the world. If you want to excel at coaching your sales teams then learning how to listen to understand is a great place to start.


By actively listening to your sales reps, you could be modeling the steps to become great listeners themselves. The art of listening to prospects is one of the quickest ways to improve their sales performance. But we will save that blog for another day!

Have you ever self-critiqued your listening skills?

Research shows that 86% of us think our listening skills are above average but on reflection are they as good as we think? On average, we retain just 25% of what we hear. I’m sure we can all improve and that’s what we all want as sales leaders.
If you want to be a coach that can stimulate your reps' thinking, then read on…

💬“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” by Stephen R. Covey

Stephen Covey

The tricky part about becoming a better listener is practicing, honing, and applying these skills.

Dr Bruno Kahne is an internationally-recognized trainer in communication and personal development. He argues that deaf people are better communicators and teaches how we can learn from them by adopting the following skills:


  • Deaf people talk one at a time, in a very sequential manner. Hearing people talk all at the same time, and often interrupt one another.
  • Deaf people can be simple and precise at the same time. Hearing people are either simple and vague, or precise and complex.
  • Deaf people constantly reformulate and check to understand, saying when they don’t understand. Hearing people never ask others to repeat, and never say when they don’t understand something.

Another great approach to be a better listener is by author and podcast host of Deep Listening  Oscar Trimboli. Oscar uncovers three steps to be a better listener:

1. Learn to listen to yourself first. We should pay attention to what’s going on in our own heads first before we start a coaching session. If you notice and give time to the stories that are swimming around your mind you are likely to be less distracted and can give more attention to the one you are listening to. Oscar says each story is like a browser tab in your mind taking your attention. The theory is to close the browser tabs in your mind before a coaching session.

I would personally do this time by going on a dog walk. The outdoors often allows me time to clear my head. I normally feel re-energized and focus better when I go back to work. Others I speak to prefer to jot their thoughts down on paper, go for a swim, or have a cuppa with a colleague or friend. Whatever works for you, give it a go!

dog walk

2. Be aware of your listening villain - Leadership Coach, COO, and Founder at Jiminny, Shelley Lavery recently introduced me to the “listening villain” by Trimboli as a more gentle way of drawing attention to listening behaviors we can improve on. Shelley loves to label her habits. In my mind, labeling or naming something it's kind of like recognizing and accepting that it's something you need to work on.

I’m sure many of us can relate in some ways to one if not all of the four villains below:

Listening: Interrupting, Dramatic, Lost and Shrewd


Villain 1 - The Interrupting listener

You are so focused on finding a solution to the problem that you finish the speaker’s sentences for them. You feel they are moving too slowly in describing the issue, so you listen with the intent of solving, rather than their intent of being curious. You interrupt and interject, creating all kinds of confusion. You are busy solving problems the speaker hasn’t yet verbalized.

Villain 2 The Dramatic Listener

You are in your own mind rather than in the conversation. You are so absorbed with your self-talk you don’t create enough space for the dialogue to land in your mind, you are so busy thinking about your last thought or your next thought that you can’t focus on the discussion. You are lost before you even turn up.

Villain 3 The Lost Listener

You are in your own mind rather than in the conversation. You are so absorbed with your self-talk you don’t create enough space for the dialogue to land in your mind, you are so busy thinking about your last thought or your next thought that you can’t focus on the discussion. You are lost before you even turn up.

Villain 4 The Shrewd Listener

You are too busy trying to solve the issue before listening to the explanation. You might be shrewd enough to wait patiently and not interrupt the speaker, but you are anticipating the future, trying to solve the problem before you have heard it or understood it all. You have forgotten to be present and to listen completely.
We may all have some of these in ourselves, but they can be disruptive in getting stuff done. Therefore, try labeling which of the 4 villains you relate to most and find a way to improve on this.

Editing back a coaching conversation

One of the many helpful listening tips I learned on course Lead, Coach, Win by the Sales Impact Academy from coach Gavin Sumner is that he likes to use editing back as a listening technique. This means paraphrasing the person you are listening to thoughts in your own words. When a colleague role played this technique on me it felt very comforting and it also showed me that she understood what I had said. Gavin often follows up by asking if there is anything else they want to add from what he repeated back to them? This can add more clarity, additional thoughts, and further understanding of the matter.

3. Listening for What’s Unsaid:

💬"The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said" by Peter Drucker

We speak on average approx.150 words per minute but we can think on average 900 words per minute. Therefore, when we share our first thoughts, the first thing that comes out of our mouth is approx.16% of what is running through our minds. We can learn to give space to the person we are talking to in coaching conversations so they can make sense of what is going on in their own minds. They need to understand what they are thinking about first.

Why don’t you try this exercise with your sales team?

Ask a question like;

❓What do you want to talk about in this session?

Then wait for a response… The best prescription is to say nothing and see what time reveals...

Continue by encouraging the person to share more by asking (see below), then leave space for them to answer.

❓Tell me more about what you’re thinking?

Before you know it, the person starts to say more with the void. Best listening can be the ability to draw out something from someone that was unsaid. As a coach it's good to get the most well-thought answer and to do this you need to give the person time.

Takeaways from tips to becoming a better listener

Demonstrate the value of asking questions over giving solutions.

Give yourself and the coachee the time and opportunity to reflect on questions.

Label your villain to see how you can improve as a listener.

Generate a wide range of questions that allows the person to stimulate their thinking and discover their own answers.

Want to read more about how to improve sales rep performance? Then watch out next time for part 5 in the series.

For intelligence tools to coach your sales teams you can

NB: Learnings from this article are from Shelley Lavery’s new course, ‘Lead, Coach, Win!’, developed with Sales Impact Academy-a leading online-learning subscription-based platform for B2B start-ups and scaleups in tech. You can view the course syllabus here and find out more about Sales Impact Academy’s education service on their website.


Jodi @ Jiminny