Listening… So Obvious and So Hard To Do

By Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA

For those who work with physicians, the goal of our interactions is to create a relationship that provides mutual value. Successful long-term relationships are about getting to know the physician. As the relationship progresses, through conversations and dialogue we are able to learn about the physician and their needs. From there, we offer suggestions to meet that need, using our services to achieve the ultimate successful outcome. It will come as no surprise when I suggest that you will never create a relationship or learn their needs by talking or telling. That’s logical and yet, good listening is often not a well developed relationship sales tool. As we work to enhance relationships with physicians or internal stakeholders, the ability to let them talk, to guide a conversation, and intently listen can be a real strategic advantage.


We listen at 125-250 words per minute, but think at 1000-3000 words per minute.

Guy Harris, Listen More, Speak Less – 5 Steps to Better Listening



I once read that sales people should pay attention to actors. Next time you go to a movie, consider it to be a business obligation! Observe how intently the actors listen to each other. You can see in their eyes and their gestures, the words that are being spoken are consuming their interest. Clearly, they are not thinking about their next sales line. That level of listening can provide a personal bond with the prospect. The ability to ask a good question and then “let them talk,” can be a distinguishing feature for you.

As you begin your interaction, start with a very brief agenda and then ask the physician if they have other needs. This lets them know you are prepared. But now, before you start with your agenda, engage in conversation. An easy way to do this is ask a human interest question about the practice or about their day – something that is an observation and gives them a chance just to talk about them. As they do, really listen. Like in the movies, listen for their choice of words, what excites them, how they express feelings. It takes good observation and excellent listening, but the physician will quickly discern that this is not about a product pitch and that you are interested. Everyone benefits.

Here Are Some Other Thoughts On Listening…

  • Manage the parade of thoughts in your mind. Our brains work faster than the physician is speaking. Often, the representative is thinking about what they should or will say at the expense of what the physician or internal stakeholder is actually telling them.
  • If you are talking and they are not intently focused, stop and ask them if they have something on their mind. Not in a harsh “caught you” sort of way; it is about recognizing that you’ve not found a topic for them.
  • Provide a platform for more detail. Enhance your use of words like “Why?” or “Tell me more” or “How would you envision that?”
  • Become OK with silence and use pauses, whether this is after you ask them a question or before you respond to them. A conscious silence lets them know that you are interested in what they are saying.
  • Listen for content, not just words. As we are listening for specific word choice, we may miss the overall essence of the message.
  • Listen for what is not said as well as what is said. If you ask about how things are going with the new partner and the physician talks about anything but that, there is a message.

Once you have defined your approach to listening, the next step is to craft an approach that gets you there. Skills must be learned; practice is essential. In our fast-paced and distracted world, someone who listens to the whole message and demonstrates understanding will certainly get ahead. In the book You’re Working Too Hard to Make the Sale, the authors remind us that people greatly prefer to buy what they need from those who understand what it is that they want. Are you that person?