Open Your Ears: The Importance of Active Listening

Imagine – you’re conducting a property viewing with a prospective buyer when, while viewing the property, the buyer mentions that they are concerned about the lack of natural light in the living room.

Scenario 1: You quickly dismiss the concern, saying, “But the room size is perfect, isn’t it? Let’s move on to the kitchen.”

Scenario 2: You pause and acknowledge the concern, saying, “I understand how important natural light is to you. Let’s explore if there are ways to enhance the light in this room, or perhaps we should focus our search on homes with more sunlit spaces. I want to make sure your new home will align with your priorities.”

Which of these responses is more likely to form a connection with the buyer that will lead not just to a sale, but to a potential long-term relationship? Clearly, the second. The difference between these two responses? Active listening.

What is Active Listening?

For many, listening is an ability with which we are born. The act of sound recognition can start before we even enter this world!

Yet, as we get older, the very act of listening is something we pay attention to less. All too often we listen for sufficiency – the minimal intent of the expressed messages that, in turn, allows us to navigate an appropriate response. The choice to be an active listener surpasses this minimal threshold.

Active listening is more than just hearing the words that are spoken. It involves understanding the complete message being sent, both verbally and nonverbally. This may include understanding the speaker’s emotions, intentions and unspoken cues. It is a skill that requires intentionality, engagement and response.

When it comes to the real estate transaction, active listening means giving your undivided attention to your clients or colleagues, understanding their concerns, expectations and needs, and providing thoughtful responses that demonstrate your comprehension and empathy. It could be the difference between a prospective buyer
casually touring a property and that same buyer making an offer because they feel you truly understand them.

Choosing to be an active listener means leading with three characteristics: focus, empathy and curiosity.

Focus: The Power of One-on-One Engagement

We have all been there—the busy and noisy networking reception. The ultimate seen and be seen playground. Although the purpose of such events is to make new relationships and connections, all too often it becomes a game of someone saying hello to you as they look over your shoulder to see who is behind you. As REALTORS®, the skill of zeroing in on a single individual during a conversation is crucial to truly hear, understand and connect with them.

Whether it’s a casual chat with a client or a crucial business meeting, focusing on one person at a time improves the quality of your interactions. It ensures that the person you’re conversing with feels heard, valued and understood. The ability to singularly focus on one voice, on one person, at a time is a skill that, when well-honed, is a distinction by which people will remember you. Focus, when done well, establishes trust and rapport, paving the way for longer-lasting professional relationships – all of which is a baseline of strength for successful REALTORS®.

There are a number of specific efforts you can make to hone your skills of focus:

Minimize Distractions: To truly focus on the person you’re conversing with, you need to minimize distractions, both external and internal. This means when you connect virtually, putting away your phone, closing your laptop and ensuring your attention isn’t divided. When you are in person, actively choose to be with the person in the
conversation – not pulling your attention away to the surroundings.

Maintain Eye Contact: While this may seem trivial, maintaining eye contact plays a significant role in one-on-one engagement. It shows the speaker that you’re fully invested in the conversation and helps you pick up nonverbal
cues that enhance understanding. In a virtual setting, this may mean more video time on Zoom. The ability to see each other’s faces gives insight into expression and body language that cannot be achieved through audio.

Be Present: One-on-one engagement demands mental presence. This means not thinking about your next meeting or mentally drafting an email. Practice mindfulness to remain fully engaged in the present moment; it can be as simple as taking a minute before you enter a conversation for a deep breath. The goal—to make sure you leave your ‘baggage’ at the door.

Listen More, Talk Less: The old adage that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason still rings true. Listening is not the pause between your responses. It’s the primary action. Make sure your focus is on understanding the speaker’s thoughts and feelings rather than formulating your next statement. As author Stephen Covey would say, “Listen to understand, not reply.”

Reflect and Respond: Show the speaker that you understand them by reflecting their thoughts and responding appropriately. This could involve paraphrasing, asking relevant questions or providing insightful comments. Even small physical gestures such as a head nod or a small encouraging comment of affirmation can serve as a meaningful reflection.

The Role of Empathy in Active Listening

Empathy is the capacity to understand and share the feelings of others. In the context of active listening, it involves connecting with the speaker on an emotional level, not just comprehending their words. It’s about putting yourself in their shoes and seeing the world from their perspective.

When a client tells you about their dream home or their concerns about a property, empathy enables you to grasp their excitement or anxiety. It motivates you to address their needs and expectations with sensitivity and consideration. When a client experiences apprehension, even if they do not verbalize it, empathy will allow you to recognize and address that shift in feeling that could be critical to their ultimate decision.

Here’s another scenario: A client is expressing frustration about a prolonged home search. You respond:

Option A: “Well, don’t be too picky. You should adjust your expectations.”

Option B: “I understand this process can feel long and frustrating. Let’s revisit your preferences and priorities to ensure I’m targeting the right properties. Your happiness with your home choice is my ultimate goal.”

Clearly, option B is the one that leads with empathy.

Although empathy may not be something you learned in a formal educational environment, there are a number of tangible steps you can take to strengthen your starting point.

Keep an Open Mind: Empathy requires openness and acceptance of different viewpoints. Resist preconceived notions or biases and approach each conversation with a willingness to understand the other person’s perspective. Be open to possibility.

Show Emotional Responsiveness: Displaying concern or joy, when in line with the speaker’s feelings, communicates empathy. It shows the speaker that you’re emotionally invested in their experiences. Moderate your emotional responsiveness to stay professional and echo what you receive from the person – acting robotic and monotone will imply a lack of caring that can undermine a relationship before it even begins.

Communicate Understanding and Validate Feelings: Verbalize your understanding and shared feelings. Phrases like, “I can imagine how that feels,” or “That must be exciting for you,” demonstrate empathy. Notice that these phrases, and others that you use, are not seeking to turn the conversation back to you – always ensure that your dialogue partner’s perspective remains front and center.

Empathy and active listening go hand in hand. By cultivating empathy, you’re not only improving your listening skills but also becoming a more compassionate and effective REALTOR®.

Curiosity: The Center of Active Listening

At its core, curiosity is a thirst for knowledge. In the context of conversations, it manifests as a desire to understand the speaker deeply, beyond just their words. It is the driving force that makes you ask probing questions, delve into topics and strive to comprehend different viewpoints.

Active listening, as we’ve discussed, is a conscious effort to fully understand the speaker’s message. Curiosity fuels this process by sparking genuine interest in the speaker’s words. It keeps your attention focused, encourages insightful questions and promotes deeper understanding.

In the bustling Chicago real estate market, curiosity can be your secret weapon. When talking with a client, curiosity prompts you to dig deeper into their desires and apprehensions. It drives you to understand not just what type of property they’re looking for, but why they prefer certain features, what their lifestyle is like and what their dream home feels like.

This curiosity-fueled understanding helps tailor your services to their unique needs, increasing client satisfaction and success rates. It also fosters a connection between you and your client, as they feel valued and understood.

If curiosity is where you would like to focus your efforts, the following can be helpful approaches.

Adopt a Learner’s Mindset: Approach each conversation as an opportunity to learn something new, be it about your client, the market or your profession. At the end of each interaction, reflect – at least internally – on what you have just learned.

Ask Open-Ended Questions: Encourage expansive answers by asking open-ended questions like, “What does your ideal home look like?” instead of “Do you want a three-bedroom home?” Open-ended responses always have a greater likelihood of qualitative nuance that can provide context to previously undiscovered viewpoints.

Don’t Assume, Ask: If you’re unsure about something, don’t hesitate to clarify. This not only ensures accurate understanding but also shows the speaker that you’re genuinely interested in their thoughts. Within a thoughtful question is the ability to verify that you, and the speaker, are on the same page.

Embrace Different Perspectives: Every individual has unique experiences and views. Embrace this diversity and try to understand their perspective, even if it’s different from yours. Even if, in the end, the perspective is not one you agree with – trying it on can give you a better overall insight into the person and their approach.

Inherently, curiosity demands a touch of humility – as you recognize that there is always something to learn – as well as meaningful inquiry. Ask better questions and see what you discover.

Active Listening: The Key to Success

In the complex world of real estate, particularly in the vibrant Chicago market, mastering the art of active listening is a game changer. It’s not merely a skill, but a commitment to understanding, empathizing with and valuing the individuals you interact with daily.

Active listening, when practiced with dedication, reaps manifold benefits. From establishing strong, trust-based client relationships and facilitating effective problem-solving to enhancing personal and professional growth, the rewards of active listening are transformative.

Ultimately, every conversation is an opportunity to understand and connect. Whether it’s with clients, colleagues, or within our communities, our capacity to listen actively shapes our relationships and professional success.

Lowell Aplebaum, FASAE, CAE, CPF

CEO of Vista Cova, LLC