Their Receive Button is ‘Out of Order’

Reading time 7 mins

He knew all about the various phones, the different tariffs being offered by the different networks, what this phone could do and that phone couldn’t, what was new on the market and what was “a bit old hat”.

I know this because he seemed to cover most of these topics in the course of his hurried sales pitch speech in response to my simple question about a particular model. (It was that time of year again when I go shopping for a new mobile-phone and a new network contract.)

Selling without listening

The salesperson had great ‘product knowledge’ and was ready and able to prove this. And as he rushed through his comprehensive sales pitch his eyes darted about the shop watching for other potential customers.

I lost interest in his list of facts, figures, features and benefits after the first minute or so. He could have saved us both a lot of time, and perhaps made a sale, had he stopped transmitting and gone onto ‘receive mode’ – had he actually asked me what I was looking for in a mobile phone!

So I got bored with being talked at, thanked him, and went into another shop down the road.

Communicating or talking?

We’ve all met them. The people who sincerely and honestly believe that communication is about telling. So they tell us – about themselves, about ourselves(!), about the weather, about their jobs, about how wonderful they are, and so on, ad nauseum.

But they’re missing an important ingredient in communication – the exchange of views and ideas.

These are the people with their ‘Transmit Button’ always switched on and their ‘Receive Button’ permanently disconnected!

They’re stuck in Transmit mode. They talk and talk and talk but they rarely listen – and even when they do pause for a breath and listen they almost never hear what is being said to them! It’s almost as if they are afraid to stop talking.

And if you do get a chance to begin talking they begin furiously nodding and making uh-huh noises in an effort to get you to hurry up and finish so that they can get back into their comfort zone, which is talking, talking, talking.

They’re everywhere!

The people who talk at you are everywhere – often they do it because they mistakenly think that ‘communicating’ is a one way process of transmitting information. As we explore in our NLP Core Skills course communicating is a process of exchanging information.

Let’s look at some typical talking at styles

Mandy the manager…

…who in the annual appraisal tells each of her people how they have been doing and how they should improve. When there’s a problem, Mandy tells people how to solve it. If someone needs some guidance she tells them what they should do. Mandy may be a manager but she is not a leader because she is denying her people the opportunity to air their views, think for themselves and develop their abilities.

In the short term her antiquated ‘strong and decisive’ management may ensure that her people don’t become too independent and resourceful so she will always be needed – but ultimately her style will be recognised as an expensive liability to the organisation.

Tim the teacher…

…constantly talks at his students. He tells them what to think, how well they’re doing, when they’re right or wrong, etc. Tim does not listen to his students so he’s cut off from valuable feedback on the effectiveness of his communication. And he has little idea of how his students are thinking or feeling so he cannot tailor his lessons to suit them.

As a result the students will likely become bored or disaffected. Teachers and college lecturers are notorious for their reluctance to use their Receive Button. They truly believe education occurs when people are given information!

Paula the public speaker…

…talks and talks. She talks so much that her listeners don’t have a chance to think about what she is saying. There are no pauses in her delivery that would let her listeners come up for air! Like Tim the Teacher she is so focused on delivering her message that she is unaware of how people are responding to her. Her Receive Button is out of order!

With more pauses her audience would be able to think – to absorb what she is saying and relate it with relevant issues in their lives. And she would have got her message across a whole lot more effectively. Instead they are being sprayed, fire-hose-like, with so much data that many begin thinking of the things they could be doing instead of being bored to tears by her diatribe.

Carl the counsellor/coach …

…truly wants his clients to benefit from their visits. So he tells them what to think, what to do, and how to live their lives. Sometimes, unfortunately, he also interprets things for them and tells them ‘why’ they are feeling or reacting in a particular way. He rarely listens. If he does listen he then paraphrases what the client has said and, in doing so, changes its meaning for the client. Unintentionally Carl is abusing his clients by inflating his own sense of omniscience – because he truly believes that counselling and coaching are about giving advice. But advice is generally relevant only to the life of the person giving it!

Sharon the salesperson…

…like the one in the mobile phone shop, believes that she should demonstrate her product knowledge by telling the customer all about her products. She believes that she must overwhelm their resistance with an awe-inspiring list of features and benefits. It works occasionally, mind you. It’s just that a lot of her customers seem to later experience buyers remorse and then cancel their order. This old-style-selling approach is based on belief that if you talk long enough you will wear them down and they’ll buy! And once they’d signed the contract you’d got ’em! And if you read some of the ‘How I became very wealthy’ books from 50’s and 60’s, this approach seems to have worked. But today’s customers are better informed, have a greater choice of supplier, and are better protected by consumer protection legislation. Someone should tell Sharon.


…tells his new date all about his life, his views, his holidays, his health, his opinions. He is so fascinated with how interesting he is that he doesn’t recognise his new date’s frequent glances at the clock. Afterwards he looks forward eagerly to the next meeting when he can relate yet more fascinating anecdotes. That ‘sorry’ message on his answering machine next day can’t be connected with his behaviour, can it?


The list of people with disconnected Receive Buttons could go on and on. The mother who doesn’t know what is really going on in the personal and social life of her child. The husband who is shocked to be told that his wife is leaving – for someone who listens to and hears her views. The messianic workshop trainer who overwhelms her audience with words and sometimes wonders why she doesn’t get much repeat business. The ‘Aren’t I Wonderful’ bore whose Transmit Button is permanently in the On position and who doesn’t see a connection between this and the number of friends who are always too busy to ‘meet up for a chat’.

There’s a shortage of listeners!

Think of an experience of being truly listened to. One in which the other person listened and watched and waited and took on board what you were saying. Where they listened quietly and at ease. Where they did not nod continuously and try to get you to hurry up and let them do the talking. Where their questions were requests for clarification or for additional information. Where they were interested in you.

For most of us being really listened to is a rare experience, and one to be treasured. We are given the space and the time to talk through our ideas. It is an exchange rather than a competition. It is one of those moments when we really connect with others. It is a situation in which we feel respected and acknowledged.

But why are such experiences so rare? Perhaps because some of us are afraid of silence. Or because some of us share a widely held belief that we must entertain others. Or maybe because some of us have an inflated sense of how interesting or important we are…

What do you think might result from your enabling lots of people in your life to have lots of those precious moments of being listened to? What difference would it make in their lives and in your relationship with them?

How to be a better listener

It’s easy to become a better listener – though it does take a little practise to wire in the attitude. Here are three techniques and one ‘be careful about’ to get you started. And remember that the payoff isn’t just in having better relationships – you may also find along the way that people begin to appear much more interesting!

  1. Real listening works best when you relax your muscles and your breathing. And then forget about yourself and give your full attention to the other person and to what they are saying.
  2. Pause for a second or two when the other person stops speaking. This gives them a chance to add any after-thoughts they may have. It enables you to reflect on what they have said. It shows them that you are truly listening and considering what they have said. And it also enhances rapport.
  3. Watch for three key indicators that they are ‘inside’ and are actively considering something. When you see these it is time to remain silent otherwise you will interrupt their train of thought. The indicators are (1) their eyes are moving about instead of looking at you or (2) they look fixedly in a certain direction while visualising something or (3) they continue looking at you but a slightly blank expression comes over their face for a few moments.

Each of There is an indicator of what, in NLP, we call ‘inner processing’ which simply means they are thinking and feeling. And when a person is doing this remain silent and allow them to continue. When they are ready they will return their gaze to you.

And be careful about paraphrasing. Use it sparingly, if at all. The words and phrases a person uses to describe something has special importance for them. When you re-phrase it in your words you subtly alter this meaning. If you do need clarification of what a person has said ask further questions or, better still, ask them to summarise what they have said.

And finally…

So did I get a new phone? Yes, but I had to visit three more shops before I learned about a deal that suited me – from a salesperson who had both his Transmit and Receive buttons operating.

He spent three or four minutes identifying my needs and expectations and then showed me a couple of near-ideal options. He then assisted me in evaluating how each would fit my needs.

I bought one of those phones and signed for a year’s network contract. And, having finally found a salesperson that I could work with, I then bought a three-year insurance policy and a hands-free car kit.

Which shows that listening isn’t just good for relationships – it’s also good for business.

The Pegasus NLP Newsletter

Most articles on this site were first published in the Pegasus NLP Newsletter.

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