Is your listening style building or damaging trust?

Tony Hughes


But there is a more effective and impactful way to listen - you can "listen to connect". It's one of the essential practices of the neuro-scienti?c framework of Conversational Intelligence® and it has a tremendous impact on relationships and performance.

Listening to connect - rather than judge, accept of reject - takes the focus off ourselves and on to the other. It's about connecting to your customer's 'world' and exploring their world. It goes beyond listening to understand - which is more about listening to confirm what you know - and enables a more agile, emergent and deep connection with your customers.

In Conversational Intelligence, we monitor the conversational patterns that produce different neurochemicals, activating either the trust or distrust networks in our brain. Pretending to listen is one of the main conversational behaviors that produce the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol is elevated, it can shut down the thinking center of our brain and make us go into protection mode. Interestingly, so too does a focus on convincing others. No wonder the old-school style of selling by overcoming objections involved so much tension - your customers were hardwired to protect themselves against this!

By contrast, showing genuine concern for others and stimulating discussion and curiosity are two of the conversational behaviors that produce the feel-good hormone oxytocin. This elevates our ability to collaborate, communicate and trust others. So listening to connect with your customers not only fosters connection, it actually helps them to engage their executive brain in the conversation and make the best decisions for their business.

When Judith E. Glaser - the creator of Conversational Intelligence - started working with the global pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim, the sales force ranked 39th out of 40 major pharmaceutical companies. Clearly, that was not a great position to be in! What she observed was the traditional features-and-benefits model of selling, rife with argumentative and persuasive objection handling, and this was creating resistance amongst the doctors towards the sales reps. To resolve the issue, Judith taught the sales reps a combination of skills to achieve results including building rapport, listening without judgement, asking discovery questions and reinforcing success. These skills were centered around the concept of 'relationship before task', shifting the focus and intention of the sales reps interactions with their customers from persuasion to connection in order to build trust. Within a year of practicing this new approach, the Boehringer sales force was ranked number one - a tremendous success!

Amongst my clients, I see a similar shift in the types of conversations sales professionals have with their customers. Once they align their intention with connection and building trust, and practice the Conversational Intelligence essentials of listening to connect and asking questions for which they have no answer, they have fewer transactional and positional conversations and more transformational conversations that reflect a true partnership with their customer. They make this shift because the science makes sense to them and because they want to operate in an empowered way and reflect an authentic presence in their profession. So, I recommend you start with experimenting with 'listening to connect' with customers you already have rapport with, and then apply it to those you've struggled to connect with. You could be delighted by the results!

Naomi Abbott is a coach, consultant, facilitator and speaker, proud to be one of 250 inaugural coaches certified in Conversational Intelligence® globally. Through her business, Conscious Presence, she elevates trust to improve the performance of leaders and teams, and increases innovation acceptance in Corporate and NFP businesses.

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Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published on LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award-winning blog. Also, visit Tony's keynote speaker website at or his sales methodology website at


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