No matter what you do for a living, “knowing where you stand” is critical to your success.
Former Texas A&M University football coach R.C. Slocum says that the ability to listen is the number-one skill set a football coach must possess. Why? Because college football coaches are locked in a brutally competitive, never-ending, cut-throat battle to recruit the best athletes for their teams. As the winningest coach in A&M football history, Slocum would know. He was a prolific recruiter, who put together several solid teams. His Aggies lost only four home games during the 1990’s.
Slocum had a saying he often used to remind his assistant coaches to listen and empathize: “If you want to sell what Johnny buys, you need to see the world through Johnny’s eyes.”
Too many football recruiters miss the boat, Slocum believes. Such coaches will meet with a high school player and his family and spend all their time talking about what the coaches think is best for the young man instead of going slowly at first, asking probing questions and getting the young man to open up. This gives the coach a better understanding of what the player is all about and what he really wants from a college.
In order for listening to be effective, one needs to ask the right questions, the kinds of questions that yield useful answers. When Coach Slocum prepared for phone conversations and personal visits, he would first formulate a plan. He identified certain questions or discussion areas that he wanted to explore.
Before each meeting, Slocum knew what information he wanted and was prepared to get it. “Don’t just get on the phone and say, ‘how you doing? How was practice today?'” Slocum said. “You’re not finding out anything. That’s just chit chattin’. You should always have probing questions. It’s okay to have some chit-chat, but while you’re doing that, ask questions to find out what he’s all about.”
In addition to providing selling cues to the coach, probing questions help him determine whether the player is truly a fit for the team. “If you ask a lot of questions, you might find out that football is not all that important to him,” Slocum explained. “Maybe he just played ’cause his dad wanted him to do it. You might think this guy down deep isn’t burning with the desire and willing to make the sacrifices you have to make to be a big time football player.”
Probing questions are important in any business, not just football recruiting. Too many salespersons, executives and entrepreneurs go to networking events just for the sake of networking. They grab a cocktail, enjoy the free appetizers, say “hi” to a few people and then go back to the office. Many of us simply “chit-chat” instead of deliberately seeking valuable information from our conversations. If you sell copiers, you need to move beyond small talk and ask questions that lead you to businesses that must replace their aging machines. Insurance brokers need to probe to find out who is experiencing a life-changing event. Real estate agents need to ask, “Who do you know who’s thinking about moving in the next year?”
Having a plan before we start conversations, makes our interactions with other professionals more fruitful. But regardless of what information we seek, and regardless of how much we learn from a given person, it is paramount that we focus and truly listen to each person. Showing deep and earnest interest in a person is a critical part of listening.
When a savvy professional spends time with a prospect, client or colleague, he or she listens actively and makes that person feel like nobody else matters, that for at least that moment, nobody else exists in the whole world. If you can do this, the results are powerful.
- “Self Marketing Power: Branding Yourself as a Business of One”
- “Tons of Room at the Top: the Attitude of Success”
- “National Signing Day: What All Professionals Can Learn from College Football”