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Verbal & Non Verbal Responses In Sales

Furniture World Magazine


Mastering Verbal and Non-Verbal Responses in Selling

Editor's note: This article is the fourth 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 later this year as a FURNITURE WORLD sales educational guide.

The Listener's Responses

Listening provides limited but encouraging input to the talker's response, carrying the person's idea one step forward.
Here the word input means the listener's responses, the purpose of which should always be to get the speaker to carry his or her ideas, opinions, or suggestions one step forward.

Listening is an active skill. This activity is especially important in sales, customer service and sales management situations. All speakers look for feedback that encourages them to take their ideas to the next level. Past articles have demonstrated how acknowledging the speaker's words shows the listener's awareness of the speaker's meaning. Nevertheless, speakers need other kinds of responses besides acknowledgements. Before we present those other kinds of responses, let's take a look at some of the kinds of responses that prevent us from really listening.

Barriers to Listening

Advising: Speakers want to be understood. In the December/January issue (posted to the Sales Skill Index on www.furninfo.com), we saw how Madelyn Burley-Allen handled the manager who came to her for advice. Rather than advising him, she provided him with alternative solutions to consider. Listeners should be wary of advising with such words as, "What you ought to do is" or "What I'd do in your situation is."

Competing: Competing occurs when the speaker, having mentioned one of his or her accomplishments, is subjected to the following kind of listener responses:

  • I'm sure what I did was better.
  • You should hear how I handled that.

Computing: Computing occurs especially among those listeners who prefer to cite the research and studies of experts, as the following examples illustrate:

  • The latest studies don't quite agree with that.
  • According to Consumer's Reports, that can be risky.

Distracting occurs when the listener switches the focus away from the speaker's words:

  • Not to change the subject, but...
  • This may not be related, but did you?
  • Feigning to pay attention while in fact daydreaming: This is the level three listener's way of covering up his or her not having listened:
    • What? Oh sure. I follow you.
    • I see (When the listener doesn't see at all).

Filtering: Filtering occurs when the listener gives you only partial feedback based on the part of the speaker's message that interests the listener. Filtering is selectively assumptive feedback:

  • So what you're really saying is you don't care to go with us, right?
  • Aren't you actually saying you're better than she is?

Gunnysacking: Gunnysacking is a favorite ploy of those who enjoy confrontation. These types typically start out with an expression of agreement and suddenly go on to become confrontational:

  • Yes, but that's a way to get into trouble with customers.
  • I agree with what you are trying to say, but it just won't work.

Identifying: Listeners who relish topping the speaker's ideas, anecdotes, etc., have the fault called identifying:

  • That reminds me of the story I heard
  • You think that's funny. I've got a better one.

Ignoring: The ignorer merely leaves the speaker hanging in midair and makes it obvious that he or she is enjoying doing so.
Name calling: Also called labeling, this strategy is often accompanied by a kind of pseudo-scientific sophistication:

  • Oh, c'mon. Admit it. You're really paranoid.
  • Sounds like you're schizophrenic.

Placating: This is the most condescending of the ways to turn off a speaker:

  • Sure. Uh huh you're right exactly I agree.
  • Are you sure you want to go back to school, you, a single mother and doing so well at your work?
    The "Rehearsing My Response" mode: The listener attempts to listen, but can't help preparing and rehearsing what to say next... just as soon as the speaker finishes.
  • Don't try to work. You might strain yourself!
  • Don't work too hard. It might spoil your makeup!

Positive Listening Responses

Leveling: When the speaker is looking for some straight-forward answers, the skill of leveling is what usually works best. Leveling consists of giving honest answers with kindness and sincerity. Note the following examples which can be used after first showing the speaker that you have a clear understanding of his or her message.

  • Based on how you seem to feel about this matter, you might give some thought to the following. Yes, as you said, it'll be difficult for a single mother like you to go back to school for all the obvious reasons. Yes, you're doing well in your job right now. You're also aware that without that degree you probably won't be promoted to the positions you'd really want to hold. I believe it comes down to how great your desire is to hold those positions. Only you appear to really know that.
  • Let me give you some alternatives based on what you confided with me. You're not going to be happy with a trip that won't give you some substantial experience with the Spanish language. You also have limited funds. Would you like me to give you a complete breakdown of what it would cost you to fly to several Spanish speaking countries and what each has to offer? Then you can study your options and choose the site that's best. How does that sound?


Nonverbal Responses

Were listening a purely passive matter, the listener would not have to respond at all, but simply remain silently attentive and leave all the talking to the speaker. Were that the case, both speaking and listening would be unilateral: speakers would only speak and listeners would only listen. Of course, we know that it is not the case. Sooner or later the listener responds. The listener's responses then trigger the speaker's own responses. In any conversation both parties alternately speak and respond.
In this series of articles, when we use the word speaker, we are referring to the one who initiates the conversation; when we use the word listener, we are referring to the one who responds to the speaker's words. The listener's feedback can be either verbal or nonverbal. In the following section we shall be discussing nonverbal responses, that is nonverbal feedback.

While we judge how well someone is listening to us both by his or her verbal and nonverbal responses, we tend to put greater stock in the listener's nonverbal responses. Imagine that you meet two co-workers five minutes apart and ask each one how she feels. Each one says "Fine," but the body language of only one of them corresponds to the meaning of the word fine. Using both verbal and nonverbal responses as a guide, most people would believe the non-verbal cues and come away believing that one of their co-workers was not fine.

Madelyn Burley Allen writes of an interesting observation of how her own nonverbal behavior was affecting those in her seminars. It seems that she had developed the habit of frowning from time to time during some of her comments. One day one of her participants called this to her attention. When she realized that her frowning was sending out a negative response, she immediately went to work on ridding herself of that habit.

Service professionals and telemarketers should be aware that their customers actually visualize the service professional's body language. They simply imagine it as an extension of the tone, pitch, volume, and rhythm of the speakers words.

The caller who hears, "Good morning, ABC Furniture. How may I help you?" in a dull disinterested voice automatically visualizes those same qualities in the caller's entire demeanor. For that reason, service professionals and telemarketers should attach as much importance to their body mannerisms as do those who communicate with customers face to face, and perhaps even more so, because they are not able to observe the nonverbal responses of their customers.

Logical Listeners, Fakers, and Janus listeners.

Logical listeners: The logical listener fails to respond verbally and nonverbally to the speaker's feelings. As a result, the speaker fails to feel listened to empathically.

I remember the story of an interior designer, a friend of mine, who was called to the home of a client. Once there, she was asked to comment on a tablecloth the client's grandmother had meticulously hand sewn in Greece. The client asked if it would clash with the modern motif she was now introducing into her dining room. The designer wisely encouraged the client to tell her more about that tablecloth. As the client explained her deep sentimental attachment to the tablecloth, the designer became more and more convinced that the woman should keep it in the dining room. The client was overjoyed. Another designer, one she had earlier dismissed, had told her to get rid of it. The first designer had only listened to the logical part of her client's concern. The second had listened to the logical and the emotional part.

Fakers and Janus listeners: The Faker is all polite smiles and other facial expressions. The problem for the faker is that most speakers can detect the difference between the nonverbal responses of one who is truly listening and of one who is not. The Faker's nonverbal responses lack sincerity.

Such lack of sincerity also holds true for the Janus listener. Janus was a Roman god with two faces. Janus listeners wear two faces. They wear one face while listening to people they look up to and another while listening to people they look down on. With the former they wear masks that hide their real faces. The masks come off whenever they are speaking with anyone they look down on. Like the Faker, the Janus listener lacks sincerity.

Sincerity: Insincerity, posing as sincerity, is a tough act to pull off long-term. The origin of the word sincere attests to that. It comes from the Latin words sine cera, without wax. An ancient Roman story had it that the Corinthians, who had a reputation for deceit, sent the Romans some columns. In the process of loading these onto one of their freighters, several of the columns were seriously damaged and thus showed gaping cracks. The Corinthians, true to their reputation, proceeded to fill the gaps with wax so ingeniously that the Romans failed to notice the trick. In fact, they accepted the columns in good faith and immediately proceeded to set them in place in the forum. This took place in winter. When August arrived, Rome's hottest month, the wax began to run. Thus the deep wide cracks in the columns were revealed. The Romans, having perceived the Corinthians' trickery, shipped the damaged columns back to them with this message: "Send us replacements, this time without wax!" So too will it happen to those listeners who think they can succeed in inviting the speaker's communication to continue by the mere use of verbal and nonverbal responses teeming with insincerity. Far from being won over by such responses, speakers will note the listener's insincerity which, like the melting wax of those Corinthian columns, will reveal the listener's flaws.

J'ecoute (I'm listening): The normal response the French use when picking up the phone.


"Slooshayoo Vas" (I'm listening to you.) The Russian equivalent of our "How may I help you?"

next issue

Peter Marino's series on listening for sales professionals will resume in the June/July issue of FURNITURE WORLD.

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.