This post is part of our Monthly Tips series.


It’s that time of year again. The holidays are in full swing and year-end celebrations are approaching at lightning speed, which means a high probability you’re dreading being with a certain family member. Or two. This week’s tip is being reprised by special request, and with some new resources.

Your most difficult relative is really hard to hang out with. I’m sorry to say he or she can also be your best teacher. Why? Because listening is a hallmark skill that distinguishes advisors from trusted advisors and mediocre salespeople from extraordinary sales professionals.

And if you can listen (for real) to Aunt Emelda, you can listen to anyone.

Of course, we both know there’s a time to listen and a time to take a stand—true for both relatives and clients. Sometimes the stand should come first. Sometimes the best order is listen first, then take a stand. Either way, a lot of listening usually helps, even though it’s the exact opposite of what our baser instincts tell us to do with the people who drive us nuts.

To listen masterfully we have to do things like manage our own reactions when we’re triggered. Then we have to tune in in a way that our everyday lives simply don’t support.

Happily, the solution to the listening problem doesn’t require surgery or a major personality overhaul. It’s available to you during any and every waking hour, and there’s no better time for it than during quality time with the one who has been gifted with the ability to wind you up like a tightly-coiled spring in a matter of seconds.

The solution is simple, not easy. It’s practice.

It’s really hard to listen when you don’t like someone, and especially when you don’t agree. Here are some phrases that might help you stay in listening mode:

  • “Wow, we see that really Tell me more about your take on that.”
  • “Interesting! What do you see, from your vantage point?”
  • “This is clearly important to you. What’s your biggest concern about it?”
  • “Seems like you’ve thought a lot about this. What led you to your point of view?”
  • “Hmmmm … what’s behind that?”

Colleague Jeff Raz also shares the value and importance of a simple acknowledgment, too. As in, “I can appreciate you feel strongly about this because …” His recent article on this same topic also includes a clever link to Angry Uncle Bot, so you can do a dry run before the turkey gets served.

With practice, you learn to overcome your biggest listening barriers. And that’s not just an investment in Aunt Emelda; it’s an investment in all your clients, and in you.

Make It Real

This week, practice taking a few deep breaths when someone says something that really irks you, then unleash your natural curiosity. What other techniques help you really tune in? What helps you manage your own reactivity?

Learn More


Refresh on what it really takes to develop listening mastery, or recall why you listening to them is the best way to get them to listen to you in Chapter 3 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.


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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).