On this week’s episode of Conversational Selling, we sit down with Laurel Bernstein, Founder and President of Laurel Bernstein and Associates, a consulting and training firm providing performance and leadership skill training for business professionals. Laurel has an extensive background as a facilitator and trainer and aims to be able to help and advise business owners on their business models and team development.

“I spent the first 25 years of my life as a painfully shy person; in groups I rarely had anything to say. But, I started to study listening skills and learned that you don’t have to be born a good listener, it’s actually a skill you can learn. So, I became a student of listening, and as a result, I would hear and observe things that people didn’t even realize. I realized that I knew a lot more about what was going on in a room than the people who were participating,” says Laurel.

We chat about what sets Laurel apart from others in her field, as well as:

  • How active listening can help you sell more effectively
  • Her tips for keeping sales skills sharp
  • Why every conversation is a negotiation
  • What makes someone successful in sales
  • And more

Listen now…

Mentioned in this episode:



Nancy Calabrese: Hi everybody and welcome to Conversational Selling. It’s the podcast where sales leaders and business experts share what’s going on in sales and marketing today. And it all starts with the human conversation. I’m your host, Nancy Calabrese, and it’s fantastic to have with me today, Laurel Bernstein, the founder and president of Laurel Bernstein and Associates, a consulting and training firm providing performance and leadership skill training for business professionals.

She has an extensive background as a highly effective facilitator and trainer. Laurel advises many companies helping owners evaluate their business model and team development. And she has the astounding ability to listen in ways most of us don’t. And I can’t wait to hear more about that. Laurel is a staple here at One of a Kind Sales. We couldn’t live without her. Thanks so much for joining us today, Laurel.

Laurel Bernstein: Well, Nancy, as I said, I’m honored because you have a high standard.

Nancy: Oh, okay. Well, I guess I’ve been accused of worse before, right?

Laurel: No, but thank you. I’m really delighted to be here. And I’m really delighted to talk to you more about the importance of listening, especially in sales.

Nancy: Sure. You know, you and I have gotten to know each other over the years. And, you know, I’m always amazed at your successful career and in your wealth of knowledge. I mean, any question I have, you have an answer for, you’re my go-to for everything. I’m just curious, you spent many years in corporate. What made you leave to become a certified executive coach?

Why Laurel Chose to Leave Her Job and Start Her Own Coaching Firm

Laurel: The reason I left is that two or three years before I actually did leave, I started to think about what am I going to do next. And I had made an entire career of being in charge, always in charge of something. And I really wanted to think about my next act. And I didn’t want to be let go like people were being let go after long careers.

So I wanted to plan my own exit. And so I had always been advising senior leaders, so decided to go to business school to become a certified executive coach. And fortunately, the company that I was working for allowed me to have five or six internal clients so that I could get good at what I was doing. And once I got good, I decided I want to do, instead of saving the company I was working for millions of dollars, maybe I wanted to go out on my own and make millions of dollars.

Nancy: Hey, I like that thinking. And I’ll take that any day. Now that, you know, obviously, when you hear the word executive coach, what comes to my mind is you work in a highly saturated space. And again, I know firsthand, you’re amazing. But what unique idea, sets what you do apart from the others?

Laurel: So to be very honest, I spent the first 25 years of my life as a painfully shy person. I would be in groups of even as little as three or 33 and I would never say anything. I very rarely had anything to say. And I wasn’t even uncomfortable about it. But because I was watching and listening and hearing, seeing people roll their eyes and I became so good at listening.

So I started to study listening skills and learned that you don’t have to be born a good listener. It’s actually a skill you can learn. So I became a student of listening. And as a result, I would hear things that weren’t there and I would hear and observe things that people didn’t even realize. And I realized that I knew a lot more about what was going on in the room than the people participating.

Nancy: Wow. You know, and in sales, as you know, it requires a lot of skills. But one of the most important skill, I think the most important skill is the people’s ability to listen. And you’ve often told me and my team that I’m trained to listen differently. How is that? You know, I want to know more. I’m sure my audience does.

A Different Approach to Listening

Laurel: Okay. So this is really important to understand. And I’m going to give you a little background story. I went to a networking event. We were sitting around a big table and there were 17 people, including myself. And when I have people introduce themselves, I like to go first because otherwise, I’m sitting here at the table, practicing what I’m going to say and practicing what I’m going to say and then I’m not listening to anybody else. So I sat in the spot where I could go first.

But unfortunately, the leader started elsewhere in the room. So I decided I was going to write one thing down about each person in the room. Just one thing that was outstanding that I would want to remember. And then when it got to me, I was the last person, I went around the room and I said to each person, I’m going to tell you what I remembered from your presentation and then you’re going to tell me if that’s what you want to be remembered for. And if you don’t want to be remembered for that, you get to do a do-over.

So, out of 17 people, there were nine people who did do-overs because truthfully, I was the only one in that room that was listening. Everybody else was preparing what they had to say. It was pretty obvious when they said what they had to say but they hadn’t heard anything that happened before. And I really, as a result, wound up with two clients in that room that signed up to my active listening workshop.

Nancy: Wow. I mean, that’s pretty amazing. So can you talk to us more about that workshop? What’s it like?

Laurel: All right, so I’m going to give you sort of like an intro so that you can feel what the workshop is like. One of the first things that I do is I said, say, we’re not going to introduce ourselves. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to talk about our favorite room, and it needs to have texture and color and function. And why you love it, why it is your favorite room. It doesn’t even have to be a room in your home. It could be your deck, it could be a room that you stayed in at the Biltmore Hotel.

It could be any room that just was perfect for you that you love. And so we go around the room and everybody does that. And what I then do is I asked them one at a time to tell me one thing that they know about every other person in the room without repeating something they said. So in other words, if they said, I have a red couch in my living room that’s so furry and comfortable, and I stretch out on it every night after dinner, you can’t say any of those words.

You have to say something about the person you learned from hearing the things they said. So what we’re looking for is, well, you know, she knows how to unwind because lying on the couch was unwinding. It wasn’t about that Nancy has a red couch, it was that she got a place to lie down in her favorite room where she knows how to unwind. And so all the attributes of a person come out when they’re talking about something they care about. And if you’re really listening, you can know them.

Nancy: Wow. So how long does it take to develop a skill like that?

Laurel: My workshop is nine sessions. They’re an hour and 15 minutes each. Usually, you press to really materialize around session number four. And I have to admit that there are occasionally some people that get all the way through the program and they still are unable to listen to cutely. They are better, but they don’t really learn how to listen with a third year.

Nancy: Right. So let’s talk about what you do and how it would benefit people in sales.

If You’re Talking, You’re not Learning

Laurel: So, people in general like to talk about themselves. They are, if you ask somebody tell me something about yourself, they like to do that. And so if you’re talking, you’re not learning anything about them because they’re not talking. I would think that in a sales situation, the more you knew about a person, the better the conversation will be. And if you really want to know, you have to listen.

And you have to keep prompting them. One of my favorite books of all times, Tell Me More. And that was just something that in a conversation, a woman would say over and over again, tell me more. And it would really allow somebody to really tell you what they need. And then from a sales perspective, then when you hear what they need, you can then tell them you understand that and that you can provide that for them in a way that they can receive it because they’ve just told you they need it.

Nancy: Yeah. So is this the kind of training, you know, I know, there were a training programs people invest in, and then maybe they’ll do it, right? For a period of time. What is your recommendation to keep your skills sharp? Again, in sales, I think it’s the most important skill. So do you have any techniques or any go-to places you would recommend people spend time each week and just, you know, revisit or learn new techniques?

Laurel: So what I can explain which can be recreated very easily at the end of the workshop, we define what areas of listening people are still struggling with. And then what we do is we have one final videotaping of each person’s listening skills test. And we have them do it over and over and over again until the skill is built. We’ve provided a way for them to do that on a regular basis until it gels for them. The listening skills requires another person to practice and that’s what we provide.

Nancy: Okay, and you do this, you can do this virtually?

Laurel: Oh, yeah, it’s better done virtually, actually because then you can record the visual.

Nancy: Okay, so generally speaking, what do you think makes a person more or less successful in sales?

Every Conversation is a Negotiation

Laurel: So I think that one of the things that is one of the most important things is that they don’t ever sell, they need to know that every single conversation you have with another human being in a negotiation. So you want to go to a movie with, or you want to choose a movie to download with a friend. So you say, What do you feel like watching? Do you want to do a rom com? Do you want to do a shoot em up?

You want adventure? Do you want to do sci-fi? You’re negotiating, right? Well, I really thought I wanted to do this. Well, I heard that wasn’t so good. And it goes back and forth and back and forth as a negotiation. Every conversation that any two people have is a negotiation. So I think salespeople from listening, can benefit so much because they are hearing what they need to hear to negotiate effectively.

Nancy: Yeah. And, you know, when you really pay attention and understand what they need, they are pretty much telling you how to sell them, right? by listening and letting them talk. And we love that phrase here, tell me more. We use it all the time and just try to keep quiet. I think there’s a stat 70% of the time, prospects should be talking, 30% of the time we should be talking. So I think this is really amazing. And frankly, I haven’t heard of a program like this. You may have just answered this, but I’m going to ask you this anyway. Tell me something that’s true that nobody agrees with you on.

Laurel: Well, that every conversation is a negotiation. It’s hard for people to think that they’re doing it all the time. And I’ve never really gotten anybody to say yeah, I guess you’re right. But I did, you know, I did think it through and it really, that’s how it comes out. Every interaction.

Nancy: Wow. I know that you and I spoke earlier about how you quote your father, and it’s endearing. And I saw something on your LinkedIn profile talking about the forcers and the unforcers. And I wonder if we could just tie it into what we’ve been talking about.

Forcers vs Unforcers

Laurel: Well, absolutely. Let me give you a quick summary of the story that I wrote. My father believes that the room, the dichotomy that he lives by were the people who forced things and the people who were patient and would keep things calmer. And his example was that if you are trying to get a light bulb out of the ceiling lamp, and doesn’t come out easily, the person who is a forcer, is going to grab it and turn it and the bolt could break in their hands.

And more than not, they get hurt. But the person who is patient and waits, wiggles it a little bit, turns it off, thinking maybe if it pulls down a little bit it’ll come out easier. And they almost never make a mistake. And I think in sales, it’s the same kind of thing. If you’re trying to force a sale, uh oh, I don’t, nobody likes to feel that. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of something that’s being forced at them. But if you’re gentle and you’re listening, and you’re waiting to see what a person needs and you really hear them, the patient person will come out on the right side of the sale.

Nancy: Awesome. Yep, I completely agree with you. So what’s the one takeaway you’d like to leave the audience with?

Laurel: Alright, so there’s this program called StoryCorps, started 17 years ago by a fella named Robert Isay. And what you can do is go into a booth, they started in Grand Central Station in New York, and you could go with a grandparent or a parent or spouse and interview them. And the interview would be stored in the Library of Congress. And after 17 years, now you can do it online. You can do it with your cousin in California.

And these interviews are golden. They’re just beautiful. And they interviewed Robert Isay about on the 10th anniversary to ask him what he learned from starting StoryCorps, and he said, first of all, I learned that listening is an act of love. And then he said, I also learned that when you’re talking, you’re only telling people what you know. But when you’re listening, you’re learning something new.

Nancy: Oh, wow. Laurel, I’m sure my audience wants to reach out to you. How can they find you?

Laurel: They can find me at www.laurelbernstein.com or laurel@laurelBernstein.com.

Nancy: Wonderful. Another great conversation with Laurel Bernstein. I highly recommend to any of you out there, if you have interest in what we’ve just discussed and she shared with us, be sure to reach out to Laurel. My team and I are going to participate in this active listening workshop. We can’t wait to get started. And additionally, for those that might have an interest in relying on a professional to turn to who’s got the answers for everything, I highly recommend. Laurel. Thank you so much for coming on today.

Laurel: Well, thank you. I really had fun. This is great.