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Listening To Your Customers - Part 1

Furniture World Magazine


Part 1: First in a series of chapters on listening to your customer's needs and responding appropriately.

Editor's note: This article is the first in a series on listening by Peter Marino. Dr. Marino believes that listening is a learned skill that lies at the heart of successful selling. The entire manual will be published early next year as a FURNITURE WORLD sales educational guide with chapter titles as follows: Striving for Significance; Bridging the Space That Divides Us; The Need to Listen; The Benefits of Listening; Defining Good Listening; The Listener's Responses; Nonverbal Responses; Verbal Responses; Clarifying; Confirming; Acknowledging; Balanced Feedback and the Exploring of Ideas; Further Barriers to Listening; and The Satir Modes.

Listening is the heart and the soul of interpersonal communication at every level -- at home, at work, and everywhere else. This is true whether we are speaking of the casual informal conversations we all have, or the more formal and structured discussions, meetings, training sessions and appraisals of the business world. Stating that listening is the heart and soul of every level of interpersonal communication is not meant to imply that the average person is a good listener -- far from it. Research done on listening reveals that the average person listens at about twenty five percent efficiency. Long before that research was done, Martin Buber, the Socrates of dialogue, lamented that the mark of contemporary man is that he does not really listen. He went on to say that only when one listens does one attain to what Buber called the sphere of the between, the sphere of the "really real."

It would be tempting in this manual to equate listening with dialogue. I've resisted that temptation mostly because of how listening parallels something else that Buber wrote in one of his books, "I and Thou." There he tells us that it is basically erroneous to try to understand the inter-human phenomenon of dialogue as psychological. The psychological, he writes, is certainly an important part of dialogue, but only "the hidden accompaniment to the conversation itself, the phonetic event fraught with meaning." I believe that if Buber were still living, he would say that same thing about listening. It is an important and even an essential accompaniment to the dialogue, but not the dialogue itself. I believe that what further separates listening from dialogue as defined by Buber is the matter of ethics. One can use the skills of listening without any regard for ethics. For example, an unethical salesperson can learn to be a good listener in order to practice fraudulence and deceit on customers. Genuine dialogue, as defined by Buber, is founded on an attitude of honesty. It allows only for what is moral, since two of the prerequisites to genuine dialogue listed by Buber, being and unfolding, exclude the kind of fraudulence that is found in what he terms seeming, and imposing.

As the author of this manual, I feel relieved in the knowledge that the skill of listening is not bound within the laws of ethics. Were that the case, we should have to conclude, logically it seems, that twenty five percent of us are not only poor listeners, but also unethical. But there is another reason why I feel so relieved. That way this manual can rightfully devote none of its pages to presenting the skills of listening within a backdrop of moral lecturing in order to hold the interest of its readers. Therefore, none of its pages will be devoted to leading its readers to believe that listening will make them more ethical. Also, ethics is not a set of skills: listening is. While I find it personally gratifying to reflect on the fact that our readers can go on to use the listening skills to promote the ideals of being and unfolding, as explained by Buber in all of their interpersonal communication, this thankfully, is a matter that is out of my hands and those of any writer on the subject of listening.

What excites me is the fact that the powers that accompany genuine listening are unlimited. As is the case with all the powers set before us by nature, so too is it with the power of listening: the responsibility of how to use that power rests with us. One thing is certain. Should we decide to harness the power of listening, the benefits to us in all that we do at home, at work, and elsewhere are too great and far reaching to describe adequately in this manual. What light is to our eyes, so too is listening to all of our interpersonal communication. Therefore we say: "Let there be listening!"

In his book, "How to Sell Yourself to Others," published in 1947, Elmer Wheeler, the then most noted American salesman of his day, stated that according to psychiatrist Adler, our most important human need is the need to feel important. By a process of elimination I assume that Wheeler was referring to the Austrian born Alfred Adler (1870-1937) who lectured widely in the United States and had several works of his edited and published in English. One of these, "What Life Should Mean to You", was published in 1931. Adler dedicated that work, "to the human family in the hope that its members may learn from these pages to understand themselves better." By "human family" Adler of course meant the entire human race.

If the statement attributed to psychologist Adler by Elmer Wheeler is in fact one made by Alfred Adler, then it would seem proper to put it in its proper context, that is, within the context of his psychology of the meaning of human life. Like so many psychiatrists, Adler was keenly interested in the subject of human neurosis. Having observed a number of his patients who suffered from severe forms of neurosis, he concluded that their illnesses resulted from their failure to follow the correct way of striving for significance. Human beings generally strive to fulfill their need to feel important in either of two distinct ways:

One way ­ the wrong way according to Adler ­ consists of focusing entirely on ourselves, with no regard for the needs of others. That way leads to a lack of trust and cooperation with others. That same lack of trust and cooperation ultimately leads to a lack of self-trust as well. Such people, Adler wrote, tend to lack the appreciation and affection of others. As a result, the very need they seek to fulfill ­ the striving for significance ­ is the very need they fail to fulfill.
The second way ­ the right way -according to Adler ­ is that by which human beings strive to cooperate with others and help them to fulfill their needs. That is the fundamental thesis of Adler: we can only find our meaning in life ­ occupational, social and sexual ­ by working to improve the overall condition of mankind, in short, by leaving the world a somewhat better place to live than we found it.

What does all this have to do with listening? Everything, once we are willing to accept the statement that all human beings have a yearning to be listened to, especially if we understand that yearning as a basic human need. Such a yearning must mean that we subconsciously feel that unless we are listened to, we find it virtually impossible to fulfill the need to feel important. But here is the rub. Unless we are willing to listen to others, we will not be listened to with anything approaching consistency. Listening falls within what we might refer to as the law of reciprocity, as much a law as that which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, but with an important difference. The law of equal and opposite reaction carries with it, at times, the notion of destruction upon the impact of two opposing forces. Not so in the case of the reciprocity of those who listen to each other. On the contrary, reciprocity in listening carries with it all the potential for synergy, teamwork, collaboration, and win-win, namely, that of two individuals not only both of them winning, but both of them winning at a higher level than if each of them had gone it alone. If this is true, then it follows logically that none of us can fulfill the need we have to feel important unless we habitually experience reciprocal listening. As we state in one of our "Ten Beatitudes of Listening," which can be found below. "Blessed are they who listen, for they shall be listened to".



  • Blessed are they who listen, for they shall be listened to.
  • Blessed are they who listen, for they promote loving kindness.
  • Blessed are they who listen, for they are the bread of those hungry to be heard.
  • Blessed are they who listen, for they are the true counselors of the world.
  • Blessed are they who listen, for they are warmth in winter's cold and coolness in summer's heat.
  • Blessed are they who listen, for they foster peace among those of good will.
  • Blessed are they who listen, for theirs are the ears of friendship.
  • Blessed are they who listen, for they help reach across the space between us.
  • Blessed are they who listen, for they give greater meaning to our freedom of speech.
  • Blessed are they who listen, for they are spared the disease of not listening.

Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at pmarino@furninfo.com.