The Lesson

Listening. It’s the one skill that every collection manager preaches about and the one skill that requires the most practice by collectors. It also happens to be the one skill that many consumers believe to be lacking in the collections industry.

As I pointed out in last month’s challenge, Listen to What Isn’t Being Said, “The listening process is a tool to build trust, develop rapport, and convey a message of openness. Through effective listening, collectors can identify a consumer’s intent and underlying motivation, values, attitudes, and desires — all of which are an important part of the negotiating process.” The bottom line is that collectors who listen to consumers stand a better chance of getting paid than those collectors who don’t listen.

March is International Listening Awareness Month, and in the spirit of things, I thought it would be fitting to explore listening barriers and bad habits as part of this week’s challenge.

Barriers to Effective Listening

Unfortunately, not all barriers are within your control. That’s the bad news. The good news, however, is that the overwhelming majority of barriers are within your control.

Research indicates that the average person talks at a rate of 125-175 words per minute, yet we can listen at a rate of up to 450 words per minute (Carver, Johnson, & Friedman, 1970). Given those statistics, it is easy to see how a person can fall into the trap of rushing a speaker, finishing his or her sentences, or drifting off into a daydream.

In 1984, Watson and Smeltzer found three primary barriers to listening:

  1. Environmental distractions (ringing phones, noisy coworkers, email, etc.)
  2. Personal and internal distractions (hunger, illness, or preoccupation with something else)
  3. Rebuttal tendency (developing a counter argument while the speaker is still talking)

Although the study is more than 25 years old, today those three barriers are still spot on. And while you might not be able to control everything within your environment, such as your obnoxious coworkers, learning to master those elements that you can control will give you a powerful competitive advantage.

In their book Listen Up, authors Larry Barker and Kittie Watson cite the following poor listening habits:

  1. Interrupting the speaker.
  2. Not looking at the speaker.
  3. Rushing the speaker and making him feel that he’s wasting the listener’s time.
  4. Showing interest in something other than the conversation.
  5. Getting ahead of the speaker and finishing her thoughts.
  6. Not responding to the speaker’s requests.
  7. Saying, “Yes, but…,” as if the listener has made up his mind.
  8. Topping the speaker’s story with “That reminds me…” or “That’s nothing, let me tell you about…”
  9. Forgetting what was talked about previously.
  10. Asking too many questions about details.

The Challenge

Thankfully, you have the ability to prevent each of the 10 bad habits from rearing their ugly head, and this week your challenge is to do just that. Spend a moment comparing your listening skills to the list above and make a point of practicing good listening habits in all of your interactions, including collection calls, meetings, and conversations on the home front. You might consider printing the list and placing it where you can keep an eye on it. You might find the visual trigger to be a helpful reminder.

The Reflection

1. What do you find most difficult when attempting to listen to a consumer?
2. Of the 10 poor listening habits listed, which do you hear most often in your call center?
3. How does your company create an environment that supports the listening process?
4. Does your company have formal listening training program available for employees?

Listen up!

Gary Jensen
Editor | collector mentor

To download companion worksheets to use with The collector mentor Challenge™, please visit

About collector mentor
Published bimonthly, collector mentor is a quick-read publication dedicated entirely to delivering articles and practical advice that teaches credit and collection professionals how to increase collection results, enhance productivity, improve teamwork, and become better stewards of the industry.

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