There’s quite a few key personality and emotional intelligence traits we talk about being important to those in sales careers. The one that’s arguably most critical is social sensitivity – your ability to perceive, identify, and understand cues and contexts in social interactions (along with showing respect to others you’re interacting with socially).
Why does social sensitivity matter so much? Because socially sensitive people are aware of how others feel, react, and respond to them and their words and actions. They can interpret verbal and nonverbal cues and listen attentively. This in turn leads to more harmonious, respectful interactions and engagements, even when conflicts and disagreements occur. For sales reps, who need to build relationships with buyers in order to become Trusted Advisors and close deals, the skillset that’s part and parcel of social sensitivity is arguably the single best thing you can develop for those conversations.
It’s a particularly necessary component for sales reps and leaders involved in discussions and negotiations. As we’ve pointed out in the past, developing and utilizing empathy and active listening are vital tools in both establishing a relationship and gleaning information about buyers and what they’re looking for. And the path to a successful sales negotiation often relies on your level of social sensitivity and ability to read a room.
Another aspect of social sensitivity comes into play for international sales. As we highlighted previously, to maximize your success in a global marketplace, you need to be able to understand and interact with cultures wholly different from your own. Those with high social sensitivity will be much more successful at adapting and be able to integrate more seamlessly in these vastly different business and social environments.
How to Improve Your Social Sensitivity
Consequently, the question rises as to what sales professionals can do to improve their social sensitivity. As it turns out, quite a few things, some of which we’ll list below.
- Develop your sense of empathy.
As we discussed previously, empathy is a valuable sales skill to develop. It opens you up to buyers’ humanity and cognitively puts you in the frame of mind where you’re looking for their best interests. High degrees of empathy also correlate to high levels of social sensitivity, so becoming more empathetic nets you a double win in terms of improving as a sales rep.
- Learn to read nonverbal cues.
There’s a great and famous poker scene in the movie Maverick where Annabelle’s bluff gets called and she angrily demands to know how Maverick knew she was bluffing. Maverick replies, “You held your breath. If you’d been excited, you would have started breathing harder.” She then asks the rest of the table if she held her breath. They all nod.
Just as high-level poker players study nonverbal cues from other players to gain clues about their hands, so, too, should you as a sales rep be able to read nonverbal cues from customers to get a sense of what they’re really feeling or thinking. The same is also true in life. One of the best ways to develop social sensitivity is to be able to accurately surmise what people are saying without saying anything at all.
- Work on active listening skills.
Yes, another skillset we often talk about is part of developing social sensitivity. Learn how to listen closely and attentively, so you get the full import and nuance of what buyers are saying and how they’re saying it. Refer again to our blog on practical tips for becoming a better active listener if you need help figuring out how to do it.
Social sensitivity will make you a better, more effective, and compassionate sales professional. Becoming more socially sensitive will also help you become a Trusted Advisor more quickly - one who is attuned to their customers’ communication preferences, business objectives, and needs.