In retail, it’s easy to react, especially in the rush of the moment or the chaos of a busy floor. But this often has the opposite effect of what’s intended. Reactive statements like “That’s not possible” or “You’re blowing this out of proportion” land with judgment. In return, they often lead to quick, defensive remarks that only serve to escalate emotions.

In other cases, retail managers want others to feel better and less stressed, so they’ll blurt out a reflexive “I understand, but…” statement. What comes through is a lack of interest, empathy, and sincerity.

You can only learn what’s really going on when you’re not talking. Retail managers who reflect rather than react to what another person is saying, whether face to face or on the phone, are able to build trust, uncover what’s really going on, and make better decisions as a result.

When you’re tempted to react, pause instead and try this 3-step micro-strategy:

  1. Reflect the feeling you sense coming from the other person.
  2. Summarize why they might be feeling that way.
  3. Pause and wait for a response.

It’s virtually impossible to do the first two actions without putting your own feelings on hold and thinking 100 percent about the other person. And it takes only a moment of intention. It also provides the side benefit of helping you remain centered and relaxed.

It’s particularly important to pause and listen when you’re interacting over the phone. Without the benefit of facial expressions and other non-verbals, you have to be cued into more subtle behaviors and clues, like:

  • Unspoken feelings, demonstrated by sighs, “hmmmms,” and pauses
  • More tentative word choices and phrases, like “I guess that makes sense” or “That could be the case”
  • Heated responses to your questions

As you respond, don’t get bogged down with your exact wording. Instead, focus on the intent of your statement and the results you expect from listening at that point in the conversation. The power of listening to learn doesn’t come from being accurate; it comes from being sincere.

Don’t allow yourself to be led around by the chaos. Take the initiative to be intentional, listen, and hit that pause button.


About Michael Patrick

Michael held positions in retail management, merchandising, and human resources before joining MOHR Retail’s predecessor in 1986. In 1990 he purchased the retail division of that firm to form today’s MOHR Retail. Michael holds true to his retail roots by delivering learning that changes behavior—providing both immediate and lasting business impact. In addition to facilitating MOHR Retail training programs, he offers executive-level coaching in one-on-one sessions dealing with critical strategic issues such as succession strategies and executive team development. The author of “The New Negotiation Mindset: Guarantee A Bigger Slice,” Michael is a longstanding member of NRF as well as ISA: The Association of Learning Providers. He has a B.A. from San Diego State University, completed Master’s level work at Arizona State University, and lives with his family in New Jersey.