Newsletter | April 29, 2024

04.29.24 -- Thought for the Week – The Value Of Becoming A More Empathetic Listener


B2B sales experts regularly speak of empathy as an important trait for B2B sales professionals, perhaps the most important trait. It is the gateway for sellers to build meaningful trust with prospects and customers. 


There are tons of information, tips, and best practices on how to project empathy, but they miss the point. Our goal as B2B salespeople is to be empathetic, not just display it. 


Jamil Zaki, professor of Psychology at Stanford University, has been studying empathy for two decades. He’s spoken to thousands of people about it and when asking them what it means, one definition rises to the top, “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.” 


Zaki, and psychologists like him, describe empathy as perspective-taking and have concluded that empathy is a powerful tool that leads us to be more generous and less prejudiced toward others. 


However, Zaki warns us that seeking to understand others has its flaws and limitations. It can enable us to understand how we would feel if we were them, but not necessarily how they feel. 


When seeking empathy through perspective-taking, we cannot separate ourselves completely from our biases. For salespeople the biases are that we believe the person we’re speaking with would benefit from buying a product or service from us. And according to Zaki, while perspective-taking makes us feel more confident because we gain insight, it doesn’t help us be more accurate in understanding how the other person feels.


Zaki offers three tips when learning to become more empathetic. 


-Try “looping” to understand. Looping is a technique in which you ask a question, listen to the answer, paraphrase the answer, and get confirmation by asking “is that right?” or “what else am I missing? This sequence is repeated until both people agree. Looping delivers a more precise understanding and deepens the conversation and connection.


-Clear your mind and reset your goals. When you’re in a position to influence and persuade, like sales, try reframing your role. Rather than thinking about how to deliver your next value proposition, just listen intently and think of the next question you want to ask that would reveal a deeper understanding of the prospect, the issues they face, and how they feel about it.


-Run a post-conversation audit. My friend Derek Van Slyke is a sales coach at Life Science Connect and he often does post-conversation audits with the person he is speaking to. When the conversation is over, he pauses, resets, and then asks, what did you get from that discussion? Did you learn something? And you can do this audit on your own too by asking yourself questions. Did you learn anything new about the person you just spoke to? Did you learn anything new about their business that you can help them with? 


Becoming a more empathetic listener should be something that every B2B salesperson has on their permanent “what-I’m-working-on” list. This week, try employing Jamil Zaki’s three tips. 


I hope you have a great week-Perry


Perry Rearick

Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer










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