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Customer Service Blog


Do you listen to reply? Or to understand?

by Peter Gerson | June 18, 2018

I have often been told to listen more and speak less. As a passionate person by nature and an evangelist for great customer service, I find this hard to do.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” —Stephen R. Covey.


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Listening is arguably one of the most difficult skills in communications, are we getting worse at it? We have one mouth and two ears and we should use in that proportion, but we should also listen to understand not just hear the other person and then splurge our version of the truth out.

Sound expert Julian Treasure found in his research that we now spent as much as 60 percent of our day listening to others. (Great TED Talk 5 Ways To Listen Better)

According to research by Dr Ralph Nichols, we retain just 25 percent of what we hear. This is most likely due to the phenomenon of confirmation bias (our tendency to choose parts of a conversation that supports our belief/value system – listening for what we want to hear)

Usually, this is because we are looking for triggers or anchors which we can use to join the conversation to give our reply. An example would be If you’re having a conversation and someone says, “You know, I had a wonderful Holiday.” Someone who is listening to respond may say, “Yes so did I, visiting my cousin in South America and boating on the Amazon.”

An example of listening to understand would be: -

“You know, I had a wonderful Holiday.”

“Really, what made it so wonderful?”

“Well I went to Bali and the people; the weather and the place were just fantastic.”

“Tell me a little more about the people?”

“Warm, smiling, friendly, helpful, ever so humble and very honest.”

“Wow nice, so where did you stay exactly?”


You get the idea!


Bruce Kasanoff explains in his posts about listening to understand, that some of the benefits from this type of listening included the following;

  • Knowledge about the person (able to find relatable conversation points)
  • Knowledge about the Business (able to tailor any responses for your solution to match their needs with your service/product)
  • Knowledge about the industry (ability to identify current and future potential for this market)
  • Knowledge about their clients (ability to identify potential synergies with this person and their company)
  • Knowledge about the pains which they are experiencing, the business and the industry are all experiencing

All of this was through a simple 5-minute conversation and the right technique of listening.

So, what is the right way to listen to understand?


Not sure where to start? Ask questions. Ask them about their business. What do they do? How is it going? What drives them? As they talk, and as you listen, they’ll start to let you know about problems they’re having. The only way to do that is to have a genuine interest in what the other person is saying, if you do this, you will be focused on them and not on your reply and what you want to say.

Great salespeople listen, and they understand the underlying motivations and objectives within the context of the person they’re listening to, this is what builds trust and relationships.


Peter Gerson

Peter Gerson

As a Customer Experience/Service specialist (CCXP) with 25+ years of working experience, Peter is the Head of Business Development and Partnerships at 5CA. When not focused on making things happen in the CX/CS world, Peter loves forging with metal, making anything from knives to lampstands.

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