In a provocative Inc. online post titled The Art of Listening Well (a great read), Eugene Raudsepp discusses one of two challenges to effective communication; we hear what we listen for.

The second is closely related — Listening to Learn is in short supply.

To the degree communication is about positioning, convincing, selling or converting, the predominant focus — including the way we listen — is on the thesis of a message.

But when it comes to business development, consider the possibilities were we to listen to our targets for the express purpose of learning. How might this impact efforts to connect?

At a practical level, the challenge comes in being able to wade into a business development conversation with no short-term agenda beyond learning. What if Job One was to pose one or two questions about your target’s challenges, concerns and keys to success?

Sales professionals have long believed that asking the right question often reveals opportunity.

Easy to say. Difficult for a smart problem solver with a portfolio of solutions and a point-of-view to pull off. (It should go without saying that manipulative questions don’t count in this conversation)

Add the fact that, as Raudsepp points out, there is a discrepancy between how quickly the mind can process thought and the time it takes to articulate an idea, and what often occurs is we believe we have an answer long before the question has been completely explored.

The temptation is to think of this as the shorthand that is the byproduct of insight.


When what we are listening for is the chance to articulate our message, we run a high risk of missing the sound of opportunity.

The best business developers (and BD coaches) I know are those who manage to listen much more attentively and much longer than I. They are less consumed with demonstrating genius than being certain they have identified the right question — because the right question is the ideal point for meaningful connection.

As Raudsepp points out, we hear what we listen for. And the more we practice listening for an opportunity to solve a problem / meet a need, the closer we get to the status of trusted-advisor.

Behaviorists point to how much the inquisitive infant learns when the only agenda is nourishment and nurture. Build intentional listening into your business development plan, and watch opportunities appear.