by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Have you ever watched the TV show “House Hunters?” Thanks to all the rain we’ve been getting in central Indiana this summer, last week was a great opportunity for my wife and I to view the backlog of episodes on our DVR.
During a house tour in the suburbs of Chicago, something that the homebuyer said to her realtor caught my attention. To make a long story short, this particular homebuyer had a unique wish list. When it came to the kitchen, she had to have white appliances and a corner pantry. It didn’t matter how perfect the location was, if the home didn’t have both of those characteristics then she wasn’t buying.
House number one had white appliances, but no corner pantry. House number two was the exact opposite. Both seemed like great options, but this homebuyer wasn’t budging. When they got to the third and final home, the realtor had found a match (which was over budget of course). Immediately after walking into the kitchen and seeing that both of her needs had been met, the homebuyer turned to her realtor and said, “You actually listened to me.”
Studies say that humans’ listening skills are poor on average. We retain less than half of what we hear, and evidence shows that these skills are getting worse.
Here’s why that should be cause for concern for you, the college admissions professional. Being a good listener is one of the key principles we stress with our Admissions Recruiting Advantage clients. Doing so is often the difference between developing a superior relationship with your prospect and being just another college representative in their eyes.
When you do most of the talking you make it nearly impossible to discover what’s really motivating your prospect to consider your institution. You‘re also cheating yourself out of valuable information that you can discover from the comments your recruit gives when they feel like they’re a part of an informal conversation.
A good rule to follow is to try and let your prospect do 80% of the talking during any conversation. That means asking great questions and then giving them ample opportunity to talk afterwards. You should also be ready to ask a lot of follow-up questions.
In my on-going effort to equip you with the skills that every elite recruiter and sales professional that I’ve ever met possesses, today I’m going to give you some effective ways to improve your listening skills.
- Stop doing other things. Easy and obvious, right? In a world that loves to multi-task (myself included), the ability to stop everything you are doing and give 100% of your attention to your prospect (or their parents) is going to be a challenge for most. When you’re on a phone call this fall don’t try and also answer an email or input notes into a file. You may tell yourself you can do both effectively, but here’s proof to the contrary. Focus on your prospect and nothing else when he or she is speaking to you.
- Listen without a hidden agenda. The college search process is not about you and your wants and needs, it’s about your prospect. When you have a hidden agenda or become so caught up thinking about yield you tend to push too hard and that affects your ability to listen clearly. Stop trying to sell to them. Instead focus on connecting with them.
- Become an active listener. Most people begin thinking about how they’re going to reply while the other person is talking. Next time that happens to you I encourage you to try something that a good friend of mine who’s a successful small business owner taught me. Imagine that at the end of the conversation you’ll have to take a test to see how much of what your prospect said you truly heard and understood. Becoming an active listener also goes hand-in-hand with asking really good questions.
- Acknowledge your prospect. Acknowledging what your prospect is saying is another way to listen more effectively. Using phrases such as “Good point,” “I understand,” and “That’s interesting” will show your prospect that you are tuned in and paying attention.
- Listen and look for emphasis. We all use tone and other facial expressions to convey likes and dislikes. It’s difficult to discover what your prospect is placing emphasis on if you’re not listening intently during a phone call. Both pace and volume can give you clues about a prospect and their feelings. Body language is just as important to conveying meaning. If you’re face-to-face with a prospect and listen but don’t look, you’ll miss half the message.
- Ask great questions. Earlier in this article I mentioned you need to ask great questions. By great I mean open-ended. Those types of questions get you an explanation from your prospect and provide you with insights that will aid in your recruitment of them.
- Don’t interrupt. If you don’t understand something that a prospect is communicating to you there’s nothing wrong with asking for clarification. Don’t interrupt, and instead wait until the person pauses. At that point, you could say something like, “Earlier you mentioned (blank). Can you help me understand that a little better?” Not only are you being respectful by not interrupting, but you will also come across as someone who genuinely cares and wants to form a deeper connection.
Becoming a good listener takes time. It’s a skill that can be honed each and every day. When you improve your ability to listen, you immediately become more effective. You will also earn trust and grow those recruiting relationships faster. (Oh, in case you were wondering the homebuyer picked house number three)
Are you being an effective recruiter? If you have questions or need help, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.