To help each member of your team improve it’s important for you to determine what type of listener they are.
The negative listener
This type of listener fails to acknowledge any positive aspects of what they have heard, and sticks instead to finding counterarguments or flaws in the discussion, eventually making conversation impossible. Rather than responding with “why didn’t you say that?” try “is there a way you might have said that differently?”, or rather than “no, you can’t” try “what alternative would you suggest?”.
The “political candidate”
A script comes in handy for getting the essential facts in order, but it makes a terrible negotiating tool. If you stick to a pre-written script you will deny yourself the opportunity to pick up on the nuances of the debtor’s circumstances. Moreover, the debtor will become frustrated and uncooperative. As a general rule, it is far more effective to repeat back to the debtor what they have just said than to repeat the words you had written down beforehand.
The judgmental listener
The debtor does not need to be reminded that they are in a potentially dire situation, nor that their lack of prudence might have gotten them there. The role of a collector is to facilitate resolution, not judge the parties involved. As a negotiator, you should always avoid injecting any personal or emotional aspect to the discussion. Remain objective and professional and listen to the debtor’s position without passing a verdict.
Debtors may stretch the truth, but you will only exacerbate their claims if you respond immediately with an aggressive rebuttal. Ultimately, you will agitate the debtor to the point where they stop cooperating. Focus not on disproving their words immediately, but on listening to the detail and inviting them to cross-reference with available evidence. For example, instead of challenging the overall truth of a debtor’s statement, ask them to elaborate on the details to keep the burden of proof on their facts, not your skepticism.
As we discussed earlier, few things are more powerful in a conversation than a well-timed pause. Resisting the temptation to respond immediately to the end of a person’s sentence is the mark of an experienced listener. Interrupting them mid-flow or cutting them off prematurely is the sign of an amateur. In the heat of an argument, many people try to maintain control by constant interruption, but a negotiation is not an argument. It is won by patient, measured responses on the collector’s side, and freedom to talk on the debtor’s.
The positive listener
While the negative listener stifles the oxygen from a conversation, the positive listener makes it crackle. All it takes is the acknowledgement that you have understood what the other person is saying, using open ended questions to guide them to the details they are comfortable to reveal. Once they have finished, provide a concise summary of what you have understood. Subconsciously, people find it easier to believe words they have heard themselves say, so a skilled listener will encourage the debtor to recognize verbally that there is a balance to pay and a plan to resolve it. While you would want to avoid interrupting or cutting off the other speaker, the use of validating statements can help the conversation flourish. It could be as simple as “Yes, I see, I understand…” to more active cues, such as “That’s interesting, why do you say that?” or “Tell me more about that.” Bear in mind that many debtors are genuinely looking for
an exit to their predicament that lets them save face and move on. If you can position yourself as a trustworthy, sincere facilitator, they are more likely to engage.
Excerpted from our free guide, Mastering the Art of Collections. Download your copy today!