Understand By Listening Closely (5,587 Free Words)


Interview anyone, anytime, anywhere, for any reason, and thereby position yourself for the win.

Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.

– Doug Larson

Sitting in first class on a flight headed from Nashville to St. Louis, a businesswoman sat down next to me …

Gill: Hi. I’m Gill.

Ann: It’s nice to meet you. My name’s Ann.

Gill: Nice to meet you too. Are you headed to St. Louis?

Ann: I have a layover in St. Louis, but I’m actually headed to Denver.

Gill: Why are you going to Denver?

Ann: Denver is home. I’ve been in Nashville on business.

Gill: What do you do?

Ann: I’m a financial consultant. I was going over some new investment strategies with the CFO of one of my clients.

Gill: Are you an independent consultant?

Ann: I’m an independent broker for E.F. Hutton. What do you do?

Gill: I’m a consultant in the IT industry. How long have you been a broker?

Ann: About five years now. Before that, I worked at a Denver bank.

Gill: What did you do at the bank?

Ann: When I left, I was the director of the Lending department. Prior to that, I was a loan officer for about 10 years.

Gill: Have you always worked with finances?

Ann: Funny as this may sound, I actually majored in drama and tried my hand at acting. I took financial classes, so I’d have something to fall back on, if I couldn’t make a living at it.

Gill: Why did you choose drama as a major?

Ann: I’ve always loved to act, and I wanted to major in something I knew I’d enjoy, rather than something that focused on career only.

Gill: When did you first realize you enjoyed acting?

Ann: When I was a kid, my friends and I would put together plays for our families. I was always the producer, director and lead. It was kind of selfish, now that I think about it, but we all had fun, so I guess that’s okay.

Gill: What did your family think about your plays?

Ann: My dad thought they were kid stuff, but my mom and two brothers loved them. I even got them involved in some of the plays. I’m not too sure they enjoyed that as much as I did, but they played along anyway. I remember one time, we got so many people involved that there wasn’t anyone left to watch, so my mom suggested that we do the play at church. I was 8, and it was my first time acting in front of a large group. The pastor of our church had one of those old reel-to-reel recorders, and he taped it. I got to see it again a few years ago. The thing that impressed me the most is how my mom let me run the show. There were so many ways she could have helped me make it better, but I never asked for her help, so she let me go my own way. After I saw the tape, I asked her about that. She said it was my turn to be chief, so she played the role of Indian. She also said one of the hardest things was to get the other adults to stay out of my way. As an adult, I can look back and see lots of times she did that. It’s probably why we’re so close.

Gill: You said that your dad thought your plays were kid stuff. What do you mean?

Ann: He saw everything in terms of how much money you could make. He was really hard on us about money, especially my brothers. I guess he figured that, since I was the girl, I’d never be the breadwinner, so money didn’t matter as much. But, he still saw my plays as unimportant.

Gill: How did you feel about that?

Ann: I remember coming home after the church play and telling him about it. He said something like, “That’s nice, Honey, but I’m busy right now,” and sent me out of his office. I’ll never forget that night, because it was such a high and such a low at the same time. I never tried talking about my plays with him after that.

Gill: Why not?

Ann: I guess because I knew he wouldn’t be interested, and trying to tell him would ruin the fun I was having.

Gill: Did you and your dad ever develop any common interests?

Ann: Eventually. I was good at math, and when I started bringing home good math grades, he would always brag about it. He also started helping me with my math homework whenever I asked. I suppose that, once he saw my aptitude for numbers, he figured I might amount to something, so he started telling me how important math was to whatever I did when I grew up. Of course, when I decided to major in drama, he was pretty disappointed and told me I’d never make any money acting. That’s why I minored in finance.

Gill: What do you mean?

Ann: I knew that he wouldn’t be interested in what I was doing in college unless it was math-related. I minored in finance, so I’d have a reason to see him on a regular basis and something to talk with him about.

Gill: What affect did that have?

Ann: It worked, I suppose, because I see him all the time. We both live in Denver and get together for dinner fairly often. Of course we also visit on all the holidays, birthdays and other dates important to the family. He’s also mellowed a bit now that he’s retired. And he’s really great with my kids.

Gill: How many kids do you have? …

… An hour and a half later, the plane landed in St. Louis and we disembarked. Ann stopped me in the gangway, shook my hand and said, “Gill, before we get to the terminal and I never see you again, I had to say that you’re the most interesting person I’ve ever had the pleasure to ride with on an airplane. It was great getting to know you.”

* * * * *

One of the most frequent problems I see with salespeople is they believe they’ll generate interest in their solutions by talking.


The fastest way to generate interest in yourself and your solution is to demonstrate interest in the prospect and his or her situation.

Ann walked off that plane knowing two things about me. My first name, and that I was an IT consultant. Yet I was the most interesting person she had ever ridden with on an airplane. 

I’ve worked with thousands of salespeople – from rookies to seasoned veterans to entrepreneurs that have started several successful companies – and if there’s one skill set that must be improved every time, it’s listening. (Of course, the salespeople who are incredible at listening usually don’t need guys like me.) If you choose to do only one thing I tell you in this entire book, then learn how to apply the interview concepts I’m about to explain.

Before I get to the concepts of how to interview, I need to get back on my soapbox for a few minutes, so I can explain one key reason why you should interview, and, once again, voice my disdain for much of what I’ve heard about this particular subject.

<On Soapbox>

Decision-makers buy from people they trust. If there is one indisputable law of sales, it’s that, when all else is equal, and most times even when things are unequal, trust is the #1 factor that controls purchase decisions.

I have no way to actually prove this, but it’s an assumption I’m willing to make, simply because I’ve seen what the lack of trust can do to any relationship, whether it be in sales or any other aspect of life. Besides, decision-makers rarely have all the facts when making final decisions – unknowns always remain – so in the final analysis, trust in what a salesperson says is the key that actually locks a deal.

So if trust is essential to the sales process, it stands to reason that salespeople would want to know how to create trust – right?

In an earlier chapter, you learned about supply and demand – that to sell you must offer stuff that people want. Sales trainers know that salespeople want to learn how to establish trust, so most of them offer training in accomplishing that goal.

Throughout my sales career, I’ve read dozens of sales books, taken almost a dozen sales courses and participated in a few one-on-one coaching and mentoring programs. With few exceptions, the experts giving the advice told me about the importance of trust, and then how to establish “strong,” “profound” or “deeply held” trust. The thing I found curious was that all of them claimed their techniques could produce this level of trust in not more than 15 minutes – an astounding accomplishment, and a little outlandish. The only people I have ever trusted deeply are those who behaved in a trustworthy manner over a long period of time. I give new acquaintances, such as salespeople, the benefit of the doubt when it seems they’re being straight with me. But strong, profound and deeply held trust? That never happens in only 15 minutes.

Nevertheless, I listened carefully to what I was told, and even practiced some of the techniques – the ones that weren’t totally outrageous. And, after 25 years of analyzing what others had to say about establishing trust, I’ve managed to finally find the key. 

Yes, I’m serious, I’ve actually landed on the one and only way to establish trust. No, I did not invent this idea, nor did I learn it from an expert. But learning from these experts is what gave me the insights I needed to arrive at my conclusions.

Are you ready to learn what it takes to establish deeply held trust with prospects? Are you truly prepared to have this question finally answered? Then brace yourself, because I’m about to give you the secret to this age-old question. [Drumroll please …]

To establish trust, you must behave in a manner that is worthy of trust.

Imagine that! All that is required to establish trust is to be trustworthy! Whew! I’m glad that question is finally answered – aren’t you?

<Off Soapbox>

Just as there is no silver-bullet sales system, there is no silver-bullet method for establishing deeply held trust with prospects. That being said, and now that I’m down from my soapbox, I must admit that I did find two commonalities among the majority of the trust-building techniques I learned:

  • All of them involved asking, instead of telling.
  • All of them at least slightly increased the prospect’s willingness to give the salesperson the benefit of the doubt – to trust him or her a bit sooner.

My final conclusion, therefore, is that, while profound trust will not be created in 15 minutes, by simply asking questions you can shorten the time it takes for the prospect to make an initial trust/don’t trust decision.

How Trust Develops – From Day 1

Trust is a learned behavior, but, because you began learning it the day you were born, it’s a visceral, in-your-gut response – based on elemental emotions. These visceral emotions are developed from the moment we’re born until we become adults – guiding our actions along the way.

However, as we progress through childhood, we are taught that trusting can hurt us, and we internalize that message. I certainly don’t remember the doctor’s slapping me on the butt when I was born, but I do remember my first trust/don’t trust lesson, when my mom told me that I shouldn’t talk to strangers:

“Why not, Mommy?” 

“Because strangers might hurt you, and we don’t want you to get hurt.”

I also remember a time, about age 6, when my best friend broke a window and blamed it on me, so he wouldn’t get spanked. I got grounded for a week, and I never trusted him again.

Throughout childhood, lessons such as these are repeated many times. After each lesson, our defensive instincts kick in, and we react by modifying our internal selves. Eventually (around age 12), we transition from childhood reasoning to adult reasoning. This is when we perfect the ability to separate our outer selves from our inner selves, and to project facades of who we are. Of course, throughout our adolescence, most of us develop multiple facades with slight variations, so we are protected in different situations. Who among us would not admit that the person we project on a first date is just a tad different from the person we project for a job interview?

So, as we transition from childhood to adulthood, we perfect our facades, and learn to project whatever image we believe is appropriate for each situation. Unfortunately, it is our hiding behind these facades that blocks trust from naturally occurring at a visceral level, and that leaves us in superficial relationships until time proves that trust is warranted.

Because this is a complicated subject, I’ll recap what I’ve stated so far:

  • The only way to earn real trust is to be worthy of it. 
  • The only way to earn deeply held trust is to be worthy of it over time. 
  • We have all learned to project different images of ourselves – facades – as a sort of protection against having our trust violated, and this hinders our ability to establish trust with one another as adults.

In effect, adult facades are keeping us from trusting sooner, and knowing that fact is what unlocks the secret to establishing trust at a slightly faster pace than would normally occur. In other words, to speed up the rate at which we establish trusting relationships, we must have conversations behind the facades.

The Visceral Trust™ Interview

A Visceral Trust (VT) interview is nothing more than a questioning process designed to make it easy for an interlocutor (IL) to drop the facade. There is no manipulation involved – it’s nothing more than having a genuine interest in learning about the person being interviewed. The real person, not the facade. 

I want to make this perfectly clear. If you use the VT interview, you will not establish deeply felt trust in 15 minutes – establishing this level of trust takes much more time. However, you will connect with the IL on a visceral level, and you’ll avoid doing anything that prohibits the formation of trust.

To successfully complete a Visceral Trust interview, and converse behind the facades:

  • You must be worthy of trust, because behind the facades people have incredibly accurate gut instincts.
  • You must ask questions that the IL wants you to ask, instead of the questions you want answered.

While being worthy of trust is required, it bears repeating that the real key to getting behind the facade the IL projects is to ask only those questions he or she wants asked. So remember, in a Visceral Trust interview, it’s not your agenda that counts – it’s the IL’s!

What Children Can Teach Us About Trust

Have you ever had the opportunity to be “interviewed” by a curious, outgoing 6-year-old? The child will know no boundaries and will ask you any question that comes to mind (regardless of how personal it may be), will listen intently to your responses, and, without fail, will ask you follow-up questions to what you just said. Yes, these questions may be simplistic in nature, sometimes even only one word, such as “Why?” but the goal remains constant: to satisfy the child’s natural curiosity.

The first part of establishing trust is easy, just be honest and forthcoming at all times. The second part, however, requires a bit of effort, because it goes against most of what you’ve been doing throughout your adult life – protecting yourself by communicating facade to facade.

The key to encouraging your IL to drop his or her facade is to drop your facade first. Instead of behaving as a typical adult – waiting for your turn to talk, so you can make your point – you must become that curious 6-year-old child. You must stop telling and start asking, which brings us to the topic of interviewing anyone, anywhere, anytime and creating relationships based on trust.

Once you learn how to interview ILs with heartfelt curiosity, you will open the door to building relationships based on trust faster than if you stayed behind your facades. It still takes longer than 15 minutes, and you must remain trustworthy over time to establish deeply held trust, but opening up your inner child, and the inner child of your IL, will definitely speed up the process of creating trust.

Visceral Trust Interview Rules

Most adults find it very difficult to learn new processes without rules. Even when we’re relearning something nearly instinctual, having a set of rules to guide us is helpful. So, to begin, let’s set some ground rules for the Visceral Trust interview:

Rule 1: Ask questions – do nothing else.

An exception is a statement that frames a subsequent question: “Earlier you said you took architecture in college. Why did you choose architecture?”

Rule 2: Never establish commonality.

Establishing commonality, or rapport, is what salespeople using traditional selling methods do, and it has no relevance to establishing trust. In fact, since manipulative salespeople do it so often, it’s detrimental, because prospects usually see it as manipulative even when that is not the intent. 

Let’s assume the prospect just told you he loves to fish. If you were trying to establish commonality, you might reply with something like, “I love fishing, too. When did you realize you love to fish?” The first sentence – “I love fishing, too” – doesn’t really frame the next question, so saying it is a violation of Rule 1. And, since salespeople often use commonality tactics, doing so will reestablish the facades you’re trying to eliminate.

So leave off the commonality part, and just ask the next question: “When did you realize you love to fish?”

Rule 3: The first question must be venue appropriate.

Whatever the venue – ride on an airplane, sales appointment, business networking event, social party, chance meeting at a coffee house, in the stands at a child’s baseball game, charity event, bike ride, etc. – there is always an acceptable question suited to the venue. “Where are you headed?” “Why are you willing to invest time to talk with me today?” “How do you know Sally and Bob?” “What brings you here?” “Which one is yours?” “How long have you been supporting Nurses for Newborns?” “How long have you been riding?”

By keeping the first question venue appropriate, you’ll avoid the impression of being intrusive.

Rule 4: Subsequent questions must be about a subject previously introduced by the IL.

People will bring into a conversation the things they feel are important. If your IL discusses a coworker, then you had better ask questions about the coworker, because that’s what he or she wants to discuss. Additionally, if the IL discusses a coworker’s betrayal, for instance, you will most likely want to ask a “How did that make you feel?” question, because that’s what he or she really wants to discuss – people open up emotional subjects specifically to discuss the emotions of those subjects, so honor that desire by granting it.

Also, people don’t talk about things they want to keep private, so you are not allowed to ask questions about anything the IL did not bring into the conversation.

The key to this rule is that the IL controls the content of the conversation, not you.

Hint: Sometimes people will answer a single question with multiple-part answers. They might start with one subject, then bring up two or more additional pieces of the puzzle. As a general rule, they will discuss the most important subject first, so try to ask follow-up questions based on the first part of the response. However, sometimes you may hit a dead-end on your subject, so try to remember everything your IL tells you (in other words – listen!), so you can regroup by saying, “Earlier you mentioned [X] …” and then asking a question about that.

Rule 5: Give brief answers to the questions you’re asked, then follow up with another question of your own.

Suppose an IL mentioned his college, and you followed with the question, “What college did you attend?” Suppose his answer to that question was, “I went to Yale. Where did you go?” Simply answer the question, then follow up with another question of your own: “UCLA. Why did you choose Yale?”

Rule 6: Never be judgmental – either positively or negatively. 

In a Visceral Trust interview, your purpose is not to validate or refute the feelings of the IL. You must accept the IL for who he or she is without judgment of any kind. The more neutral you can remain, the more your IL will engage.

Honesty And Dishonesty

To conduct a Visceral Trust interview, you must make the first move. You must be willing to throw away your facade, trust the IL to be honest and be totally open and honest yourself. You must become the curious 6-year-old, without inhibitions and with a sincere desire to learn about the other person. If you make this emotional commitment, the IL will instinctually sense this, which is why he or she will lower the adult facade, and speed up the process of establishing trust. If you don’t make this emotional commitment, you will fail in this interview technique.

On rare occasions, you’ll interview a dishonest person and you’ll initially get carefully crafted answers, based on the IL’s current facade. However, when you use this interview process correctly, a curious thing will often happen: Once you get past the facade, the floodgates may open. Dishonest people will tell you stories of lying, cheating or stealing, and will often actually brag about their deceptions. My point is, when you interview a dishonest person, you will probably know it, because he or she will be quick to tell you. It doesn’t happen that often, but you should be prepared for the possibility.

On the incredibly rare occasion, you’ll interview someone who simply is not willing to drop the adult facade. That is his or her choice, and one you should absolutely not fight. You are free to ask any question you like. But he or she is free to refuse to answer and you should honor that. When I encounter someone like this in a sales situation, I find a way to politely end the meeting and leave. This is a strategic choice built on experience. Simply put, I won’t work with anyone who I don’t trust or who refuses to trust me. This is by no means a judgment on the prospect’s reasons for staying behind his or her facade. It is merely the recognition of the reality that mutual trust is key to my ability to succeed, so its absence is a red flag to be avoided.

Go Back And Watch The Facades Fall

You can do a Visceral Trust interview any time you have 15 or more minutes of time with another adult. I opened this chapter with my conversation with “Ann” on the airplane. Naturally, I related that from distant memory, so it represents only what I recall of the first 10 or so minutes of the conversation. But the basic content of the conversation is enough to demonstrate how the interview works. Now that you’ve learned the VT interview rules, go back and read that again.

In case you didn’t notice, throughout the interview, I asked Ann specific questions about what she just said. For instance, when she said, “I’m a financial consultant,” my question was “Are you an independent consultant?”

First, by using the word “consultant” in my subsequent question, I showed Ann that I was listening. (Note: This is not the same as “parroting” the IL, in which you restate her answer – “So you’re a financial consultant” – then following up with a question. Parroting is a phony technique that creates sales resistance, because it’s not how people naturally talk. So I don’t recommend using parroting with prospects.) 

Second, by asking a question about what she just said, I allowed Ann to control the content of the conversation – we talked about the subjects important to her, not the subjects important to me. But based on my question choices, I was able to control the direction the conversation took. By direction, I mean forward in time, in the present or backward in time, and shallow on many subjects or deep on one subject. This shared control is a key component in what makes the VT Interview work.

Third, I never tried to establish commonality by switching the conversation back to me – “I’m a consultant, too” – so Ann knew in her gut that I was more interested in what she had to say to me than what I might want to say to her.

It is these three specific actions that cause the facades to fall and thereby create an atmosphere that promotes openness, honesty and trust.

Sales And The VT Interview

The Visceral Trust interview allows you to connect with people behind the adult facade – at the visceral level, where trust resides. It works, because the person being interviewed controls the content of the conversation while you control the direction. So, rather than being duped into discussing things that are important to the interviewer, as would happen using other techniques, your prospects get to talk about things that are important to them.

In a sales setting, the VT interview will rarely result in a personal conversation, because the meeting itself has a purpose to which the prospect will likely want to adhere. What it will do, however, is allow the prospect to open up about the things that are critical to him or her related to the subject at hand. So, while the interview may start with “Why are you looking at new life insurance options?” it could end, for instance, with the prospect’s describing the many reasons she has for protecting her children in the case of her untimely death. If a sales VT interview ever does become personal, it is important that you let the conversation take its course, because attempting to change that course violates the reason for Rule 4 – to let the IL control the content of the conversation – and will quickly damage whatever level of trust has been created.

The Visceral Trust interview is a powerful technique for diagnosing the prospect’s true problems. It will not only get past the prospect’s facade, it will often allow you to get past the superficial business issues into the meat of what needs to be done.

A side benefit of the VT interview technique is that people will tend to trust you sooner than they would have had the facades not fallen. But, this interview technique does not establish trust, it merely makes it easier for prospects to trust you, which shortens the time before trust is created.

It’s important to note that a key difference exists between the VT interview and most other trust-building techniques. Other techniques have specific agendas – such as searching for a specific piece of information from the prospect or guiding the prospect’s thinking in some way. In the VT interview, you have no agenda other than an honest desire to learn about the IL. I believe the absence of specific agendas makes the VT interview more successful, more versatile and much easier to use.

But the bottom line is, to actually earn trust you must be trustworthy.

The VT Learning Curve

The first time you practice the Visceral Trust interview, do so in a safe, social environment. A great starting point is to take your significant other to dinner at a quiet restaurant, where you can have a long, private conversation.

At some point after the food is ordered (so that interruptions are less frequent), start the VT interview process by asking a follow-up question about anything that was just said. Try using questions like “When did you first realize that?” to explore the past. People don’t often get the chance to relive past experiences, and doing so will likely open new areas of conversation for you to enjoy.

After you’ve practiced in a few social settings, try the VT interview in your next conflict situation, such as the first time a store clerk gives you an attitude. Instead of arguing your point, simply do nothing but ask questions about whatever the clerk said:

Clerk: Our store policy is to not accept returns after 30 days.

You: May I see the policy, please?

Clerk: I don’t have a copy of the policy handy.

You: Where can I get a copy?

Clerk: I’m not sure.

You: How can you find out?

Clerk: I guess I could ask my manager.

You: Who’s your manager?

Clerk: Tom Thompson.

You: Can you find Tom, and ask him where a copy of the policy is?

I admit that this conversation example is simplistic, but the idea is important – practice in a heated situation, so you’ll learn to remain calm when conducting the VT interview, because remaining nonjudgmental is a key to success.

Once you’ve practiced with friends, and experimented in a heated situation, you’re ready to use the VT interview with prospects. Start using it in simple situations, such as when networking or interviewing people for articles, books or customer surveys. You might even try taking good customers to lunch, and doing a VT interview with them, so you can strengthen the relationships you’ve already created.

When first learning this interview, people often struggle to ask questions about subjects the IL has raised. A simple technique for keeping on track and stimulating creativity is to start your question with Who, What, When, Where, Why or How. Interestingly, you can ask any one of those things about any single subject.

Gill: Nice to meet you too. Are you headed to St. Louis?

Ann: I have a layover in St. Louis, but I’m actually headed to Denver.

Who do you know in Denver?

What are you planning to do in Denver?

When was the last time you were in Denver?

Where are you headed in Denver?

Why are you going to Denver?

How long will you be in Denver?

Practice makes perfect, so start practicing.

When To Use The VT Interview

Because the foundation of the VT interview is to ask a question about whatever the prospect just said, you can literally use it any time you want.

I use the VT interview whenever I’m cold-calling, and the prospect or gatekeeper said something I didn’t expect. Instead of getting flustered, I simply ask whatever question pops into my head. Suppose a gatekeeper told you, “Mr. Jones doesn’t take sales calls.” What question could you ask as a follow-up to that statement? How about, “How does Mr. Jones stay informed, so he can find resources quickly when he needs them?” I don’t know about you, but I’d love to have that question answered for every prospect on my list, so, whenever I get the chance, I ask it!

Here’s an example of how I might use the VT interview when a prospect tells me my price is too high:

Joe: I was expecting it to be about half that.

Gill: Where did you come up with that number?

Joe: We’ve talked to other sales consultants, and that’s what they’re telling us it will cost for the training we want.

Gill: I may have misunderstood you earlier. I thought you preferred to pay for results, rather than training. Do you want training, or do you want the results we’ve already discussed?

Joe: Well, we obviously want to produce the results, but I’d like to do so at the best possible price.

Gill: The fee I quoted is the best fee I can offer and still guarantee results. I can reduce the fee, but the guarantee is the first thing that will go. Would you like to talk about a fee structure with no guarantee?

Joe: I’d really rather have the guarantee.

Gill: Do you mean the price is okay as long as results are guaranteed?

Joe: Sure.

Gill: Okay. What’s next?

The beauty of this type of interview is that you can use it as a relationship-building tool, a diagnostic tool, an objection-elimination tool – a tool for almost any job. It’s one of those techniques that supports the adage: “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

The Visceral Trust interview truly is a hammer that turns most problems into nails, so don’t hesitate to try it whenever you think it will help.

The [Your Name Here] Sales System: Understand By Listening Closely

The ability to interview is key to several aspects of becoming the very best salesperson you can be, because much of what makes salespeople great is their knowledge of their products, industries, customers’ issues, competition, and so forth. Only by learning and perfecting your interview techniques can you hope to learn what you need in order to succeed in a reasonable amount of time.

Use the Visceral Trust interview with anyone, anytime, anywhere, for any reason, and you will become the most interesting, and trusted, person in the room.

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