A Simple Lesson from one of the Most Successful Business Women who ever lived

Mary Kay Ash founded Mary Kay cosmetics in 1963 with an investment of $5000. Today Mary Kay Inc. is a multibillion dollar cosmetics company with a sales force of 1.7 million in more than 30 markets around the world. The company’s explosive growth is largely down to its creative business model. Mary Kay is credited as having pioneered the pyramid business model under which self-employed sales representatives (known as beauty consultants) purchased products from the company at wholesale prices and then sold them at retail prices to their customers. In addition, each consultant could earn commission from sales by new consultants they introduced.

But if you’d asked Mary Kay Ash the secret of the company’s success, she would probably have focused on her philosophy. She was a great advocate of the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”) and the company’s business model was designed to enable women to advance by helping others to succeed. Many memorable quotes are attributed to Mary Kay – maybe she really said them, maybe she didn’t, but most of them seem to fit with the other things we know about her –  One that I find most useful is “Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says:”Make me feel important.”Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.”

I’d invite you to give it a try. Over the next seven days hang an imaginary sign around the neck of every person you meet. Of course, it’s one thing to have the best intentions towards other people, but how do you actually make them feel important? Well, I would recommend that you try listening to them. It’s the highest honour that we can pay another person. To listen to them with respect, without judgement, with genuine interest and most importantly without interruption.

Learning to listen well isn’t as easy as you’d think. A good place to start is by observing other people’s conversations carefully for awhile. You might be quite surprised at what you hear. People who talk over each other, people who don’t acknowledge what the other person has said, people who can’t wait for the other person to draw breath so they can jump in and start talking again etc etc. It turns out that listening isn’t such a common skill. It’s almost as if most people inhabit parallel universes and are having entirely separate conversations with themselves – they’re just taking it in turns to do the talking.

When you’ve observed how not to listen for a day or two, try some of these tips for listening effectively.

  • Tip Number 1 is to stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and listen to what the other person saying now. Pay attention to them. You can nod your head if you like to show that you’re listening but don’t do this at the expense of giving them your attention.
  • Tip Number 2 is don’t interrupt. Just to make sure you’re not interrupting, carry on listening until they’ve finished talking. Then pause for a moment or two to show that you’ve been listening. (When you do this, people will think you’re wise because you’re thinking carefully about what to say next.) Then playback what they’ve said to you using their exact words. “If I’ve heard you correctly, you’re concerned that…”
  • Tip Number 3 is to avoid saying “That reminds me of the time when I…” In other words, bringing the conversation back to your experience when it’s your turn to speak. People don’t want to be interrupted to hear about the time it happened to you, because this diminishes the importance of their own experience. Instead, encourage the speaker to go deeper into the experience they’ve told you about. Maybe ask them for clarification on something they said: “Tell me, when you said “ugly”, what exactly did you mean?”
  • Tip Number 4 is not to give advice. The best form of listening is often just providing a sounding board to allow other people to talk and work things out for themselves.
  • Tip Number 5 is to avoid trying to have the last word on the subject. Let the other person have last word. You will have left them feeling important and, paradoxically, they’re much more likely to come away with a high opinion of you.

Notice how differently people react when you start listening like this. And where are the hidden riches?  Try using these techniques with your customers, try using these techniques with your prospects, try using these techniques with your team. You’ll be amazed at what you find.

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