Frances and her sales manager, Gary, just presented a proposal to their customer, Hank.

Afterwards, Hank sits silently for a long time. Finally, he says: “Well, that’s a gutsy recommendation. You challenged me – and I respect that. I’m going to have to give this some thought. Talk it over with my boss… Let’s touch base next Wednesday…”

Later, in the parking lot, Frances says, “I think that went well. He respects us. He called us gutsy.”

“It was a disaster,” Gary says. “Gutsy is code for ‘too risky.’ You’ll see – when you talk to him next week he’ll tell you his boss shot it down.”

So who do you think read the situation right?

The truth is, you can’t tell. For that matter, neither can Frances or Gary. Each thought the customer’s meaning was clear. But in reality, they each projected their meaning onto the customer’s words. Frances wanted to believe Hank supported her idea – so that’s what she heard. Gary works with a lot of prospects who are risk averse. So that’s what he heard.

We hear what we expect to hear. It happens all the time – not only in sales, but in every part of our lives.

There’s a four-step method – the FACE method – that can help you set aside your own expectations and be sure you understand exactly what your customer is telling you. Here are the steps:

Focus. One of the greatest barriers to understanding is distraction – distracted talkers and distracted listeners. Make sure you’ve cleared away physical distractions – ringing phones, interruptions – as well as mental distractions, so that you can hear what’s being said.

Acknowledge what your buyer is saying. Don’t judge. Don’t argue. Simply express that you heard the buyer, that the comment has merit, and that you appreciate him or her sharing important information with you.

Clarify what the buyer has told you. If there’s anything that you don’t understand, ask more questions before moving on.

Explain. Once you have clarity, you can present your point of view. Unfortunately, most people want to explain their point of view first. That short-circuits true understanding.

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