Guest interview with Colin D Smith, the listening expert

Nov 8, 2023 | Coach Guest

” Show Notes”

In this show we talk to Colin D Smith who is an expert in listening. A skill we have

talked about many times in the show.

Listening makes people feel needed and valued. It is something that can be learnt
either through coaching in group settings or

  1. Even though most people think they are good

Listeners in reality very few people have the skills to do it well. And this is reflected
in society with a rise in loneliness and sadly suicide rates.

Colin goes on to say the importance of using open ended questions
“how do you feel about that?”

“interesting, what more do you want to say about that?”

Sam poses the question of how can we use this in our business, in particular

Good listening can results in building trust and
be more likeable. So when dealing with customers get them to open up with open
questions, exploring different options. And if you become a better listener your
clients will in turn listen closer to you. It’s a win win!

Colin believes deeper listening can be learnt. Clear away distractions, go in to your
discussions with a settled mind and be

‘more in the present. Avoiding interrupting, stop trying to fix things. don’t be an
eighteen second manager.

Colin goes on to re-enforce the quality of being present. Think along the lines of
becoming a listener as to doing it. Take a three second pause after the other
person has finished speaking, observe their body movements. Listen for key

“I have never told this to someone before”

Marcus brings up non verbal conversations. Eye contact, facing people during
conversations, equality of viewpoints all contribute to the effectiveness of

In times where you have to get to know people quickly, head shots, for example, it
is important to get yourself centered
before and during the event. Keep a calm demeanor in spite of everything.

Good listening skills will make your clients feel that they have the right person on
the job.

You can contact Marcus




“Show Transcription”

Marcus: Well, hello there, Sam. And how are you today?

Sam:  Very good, Marcus. How are you?

Marcus:  Brilliant, absolutely brilliant, thank you. And as per normal, but even more so, a little bit more today, I think. I’m really listening. That’s good a clue, isn’t it? I’m looking forward to listening to our guest this morning because we’re going to be talking about listening.

Sam: Excellent. Yes. So, and hello, listeners. Marcus, we need to say that as well. Hello to all our listeners and to our guest, Colin Smith. So I’m going to let him introduce himself. Colin, welcome to the show.

Colin:  Lovely. Thank you, Sam. And thank you, Marcus. I’m delighted to be here talking. Well, there’s an irony, really, in talking about listening, but you’ve got to tell people about it sometime. So when I’m introduced, they go, so who are you? And I say, my name is Colin Smith, but I’m also known as the Listener. And usually I get two responses to that. One is the what, which they think is funny, and the other is a quizzical look, as if, say, the listener, which is unusual. And I usually start by asking them a question and I’ll ask it to you two, but you don’t need to answer. When was the last time you felt really heard? And they go, oh, gosh, that’s a while back, actually. But surely isn’t listening the same as hearing? And I go, no, it’s very different. And so they’re very quizzical and they’re very interested at that point. And so that’s really been my business, calling myself a listener for about the last ten years, I suppose. And if you were to sort of break it up into the functions of it, first one is, is I listen to people because people need to feel heard. And in fact, somebody would say people are dying to be heard, literally and figuratively, so helping them to feel heard, helping them to feel valued, helping to feel that they matter. And the second is that the quality of my attention, the quality of my listening, actually improves the quality of the person I’m with thinking, and so I help them to think better. And then the third area is once they’ve got past those two, they realize actually they don’t listen very well at all and they’re keen to learn to listen. So I teach people how to listen. And that might be in coaching, it might be in what’s the word, a group setting. That’s often the important one because that leads to other things. And then a realization, actually, they don’t listen very well. So, yeah, that’s a little bit about me.

Sam: Amazing. Yeah, really interesting things there. I think I have that conversation with my daughter a lot, especially when you’re talking to them on the phone and it’s like and she’s like, I’m listening. And like, no, you’re hearing, you’re not listening. And yet trying to get that fully thought about it.

Marcus:  Can I play devil’s advocate just for a second here, Colin? Why do we need to be good listeners?

Colin: Great question. Some would say that if you asked a group of people, 100 people, how many of you think you listen better than average? Pretty much most people with their hands up. Whereas actually very few people, our listeners are able to listen properly. And so hearing is something that we do without thinking. So we could be in a crowded restaurant, very busy, but somebody calls your name out, Marcus, you’re going to go, did somebody call my name out? It keeps us safe. Whereas listening, you have to intend to listen, which is very different. And it’s important because of the way I think people feel when they felt heard. And I think we’re becoming more and more lonely. There’s a rise in suicide, there’s a rise in mental health. I think the primary issue is we do not listen and people don’t feel heard just because you’ve heard the words. So you could have a conversation with your wife or your daughter or partner, whatever, and they say, yes, you’ve heard what I’ve said, but you’re still not listening. And you think there’s something different because when you really do feel heard, you’ve been listened to. We get a situation, for example, that I can be with my partner and she says, Colin, you’re not listening. Then I think, right, next time I’m going to make sure I am listening. So she tells me something and I repeat back exactly what she said. And she says, Fine. Yes, you’ve repeated back what I’ve said, but you’re still not listening. So listening is very different. People feel heard, not just hearing the words, but they feel heard. The whole body feels as though they’ve been heard. And that’s the difference. And that’s, I think, the reason, going back to what I was saying earlier, the real reason for people needing to be heard is the rise in mental health, the rise in loneliness, the rise in suicide, which the more people, more of us can listen better to others, the less I think we’d drop those numbers.

Sam:  Yeah, everybody kind of wants to talk about them. And almost a lot of people in conversation, they’re waiting for the next gap to say their next thing, rather than listening to what the people around them are actually saying.

Colin:  Yes. So, for example, if I could answer now what you’ve just said and take it somewhere else, I could turn to you and say, that’s interesting. What more what more do you think or feel or want to say about that? You go, oh, and even in that moment you feel heard. Yeah, because I’m now interested in you, people are interested in me. It’s so rare, even that question. And what more, to someone, most people will smile, then think and then talk some more.

Sam: So, yeah, Colin, having listened to what you’re saying, we do need to move on a bit. And we have a podcast and we talk about business as well. And that is also important for us as human beings, but can also be so useful for us in business and for people. As photographers and in marketing, we talk a lot and we talk a lot about the show that people like to talk about themselves and are interested about themselves. We don’t talk so much about, well, let’s give them that space to actually talk about themselves and listen to them. And we talked a bit about networking as well, how important networking just listening is. You don’t want to be that person selling, that person talking about themselves. You want to be that person who listens. And some of the skills you teach could be extremely useful and powerful there.

Colin: Yes, very much so. This whole business of being a listener in a networking event or in business really is important. It can help build trust, it can help build rapport, which we talked about briefly earlier, and you become likable and people buy from people. And if you’re use the example of photographers, we’re employing the photographer to do something really important for us. It could be a wedding, it could be a christening or a birthday. It’s a one off situation. And not only do I want you to deliver, but I want to actually to make it special as well. And the more questions the photographer can ask of the customer, the more they’re going to share with them. And that lovely question of what more, tells me more. Because what you want to do is get them to relax, to think better, to really explain what they want, what are they trying to get from this, what is the outcome for them and all of those things? And then what ideas have they got? And they need to be able to test you out. So if you say something like, well, what we’d like to do is we’d like to have everyone standing on their heads and if the photographer immediately goes, no, that’s stupid, then they’re going to be more reluctant to say more and to really get what they want. Whereas if they go, yeah, it’s an interesting idea and the more you get them to explore what they want, then they’re going to be looking at you to, okay, now you’ve heard all this, what are your ideas based on your experience? Because we’ve only done one wedding or about to do one wedding, you’ve done hundreds, so what are the things that you’ve learned which are best? They’re going to be much more receptive to hearing you and listening to you when you’ve listened to them.

Marcus: Very interesting. And I love the idea you’re saying there of that very open question, tell me more. That is something that I can definitely see myself using. So is deeper listening, is this a skill that you can learn? Is inert is it something where born with what are your thoughts in that, Colin?

Colin: So there are a number of levels. The first level is obviously hearing what comes after that is a skill that you can learn and you can learn by various elements of it. And you start off by making it easier for yourself. So for instance, clear away all the distractions. So take the mobile phone away, put the laptop down, and face the person that you’re speaking to. But I think it actually goes earlier than that. So often we come into meetings thinking, what can I get rather than what can I give? And if we have an intention to listen, we set that intention early on in our minds. Even sitting quietly beforehand, just think it’s sitting in the car waiting, right, five minutes early. Let me just settle myself, because the more I settle myself and arrive in the present moment, the more likely are that you’re going to be able to respond better to the person that your customer. So there are a number of skills that you can actually learn. As I say, one of them is about distracting, another is not interrupting. Now it’s okay as you I think it was Marcus just said, yeah, that’s fine. Those little movements and little moments or words can help me speak more i.e, you’re still with me. You’re still with me. So that’s another one. So not interrupting, actually saying, oh, that’s really interesting, Colin. Let me just ask you a question or let me take it further and I’m about to say something. Or worst of all, I’ve shared something that’s really emotional and you jump in with something yourself. So another one is not interrupted, not trying to fix how many people come to you with a problem and actually all they want you to do is listen, we try and fix oh, don’t worry. Let me tell you. So doctors are very good at this. They said that three out of four doctors interrupt the patient before they finished telling them what the problem is. And of those three out of four, on average, they do so within 18 seconds.

Sam: Wow.

Colin:  And when they looked at the rest of them, those that did finish on average, it was about 30 seconds. So another 12 seconds in the conversation and they’d have got it all out. And they’re very quick doctors. Obviously they don’t have a lot of time. They’re quick to find the answer. Here’s the solution, here’s the prescription. Off you go. And at the doorway, the person turns to the doctor and said something I needed to tell you, doctor, which is this. And the doctor goes, oh, my goodness, come back. Tears the prescription up. Tell me more. So I say, when I explain that, I said, are you an 18 2nd brother, a mother, an 18 2nd leader, 18 2nd manager? We want to fix and we want to do it quickly. And when you think about it, when you interrupt, when you fix it, so you’re already telling them a message which is, I’m more important than you are. My thinking, my thoughts, my ideas are more important than yours. But it’s funny, when you let people speak, let them get their thinking out, they can actually stand up and go, that’s all I needed, thank you so much for listening. And you think, I’ve done nothing. But you’ve done a lot. You’ve enabled them to get to where they need to be. So there’s a whole range of skills that you can learn. But I think once you get past all of that, you start just showing up present, fully present, and therefore you can respond to wherever that person is. And that’s where you become a listener, as opposed to listening or the early stage, just hearing. So there are three stages. So it is a skill that can be learned. And I think the more you get to understand it, the more you can get past that. So rather than doing listening, you become a listener. Does that make right? Makes sense.

Marcus: Yeah. Perfect.

Colin: There is a journey and you never finish.

Sam:  No, it sounds really interesting. And what I find actually is, I think sometimes technology with the zoom calls and stuff can get in the way. I find sometimes when you’re having those conversations with people, when you’re doing things like zoom calls, it can cut the gaps, those little couple of millisecond gaps between people talking and listening. And that can really mess that up. I find sometimes you can find yourself interrupting somebody because you think they’re finished, because there’s a delay or something. And that can be really hard.

Colin: Yes. One of the things you can do where you’re not sure is just take a pause. I often talk about a three second pause and it could be longer. So just count to three before you finished, before you speak, and you might find they speak again. But also, if you’re really paying attention, you actually know they haven’t finished. If you’re waiting to jump in, all you’re waiting for is a moment to jump in. That breath, that pause you’re in. I can talk now. Whereas if you really sit with them and look at them, you’ll notice, for example, their eyes are still moving, they’re still thinking, in which case there more is going to come. And what’s so lovely is that the second wave of thinking, the third wave of thinking, is even more important, particularly to the photographer, particularly to the salesperson, particularly to the leader. And sometimes they say, I’ve never told this to anyone.

Sam: Wow.

Colin:  I’ve never had the courage to say this, and that tells you a lot about how well you are listening to them.

Marcus: I love that. I’ve got to say also, Colin, I’m here listening away and your voice draws you in so much. It’s not a one way process, isn’t it? It’s a two way process as well. The fact that the way that you’re talking really draws me in.

Colin: Thank you. Coming from someone like yourself who’s on the other side of this, I really appreciate that.

Marcus:  My pleasure. Colleen, maybe you can just talk to us a little bit about nonverbal communication. You sort of have touched on it in talking about eye contact, etc.. Does that play a key part in conversation, especially for sales? In sales, nonverbal communication.

Colin:  there’s a lovely Ted Talk by a lady called Chelsea Heedley. She talks about ten ways to have a better conversation. And she said all of this stuff about nodding and AHA and all of that, just to show you’re listening. She said is just she said a slightly different word, but she said it’s just rubbish. If you’re with someone who’s really paying you attention, you know it, that’s it. But if we take that, that’s the end of it. But if you go back from that, all the nonverbal is such a good question because the verbal things, like looking at them, the verbal things of facing them, eye contact, all of those things are really important. But what’s underneath that? It’s like the iceberg. That’s the tip of the iceberg. Underneath the iceberg is what you are intending for them as the listener. So I intend to be curious, to be interested, to be encouraging, to see the person in front of me as an equal thinker as an equal person, to see that person in front of me as a human being, all of these things sounds a weird thing to say. Almost ooze out of you as they are talking. You’re not saying anything, but it oozes out of you through your intention to do so. I know it sounds strange, but trust me, that work. Because you know when someone’s not interested, you know when someone is interested, it’s different. It feels different. I may not be able to articulate what it is, but I know it’s different.

Marcus:  Brilliant. Brilliant answer. Thank you.

Colin: Pleasure.

Sam:  That’s interesting. And then I’ve been thinking, this is all really interesting stuff. As a photographer, one of the things people have to do in some situations is like get across. You were saying there you almost ooze it, they’ve got a long time, and they can start to have those longer conversations. For others it is quite quick. Me and Marcus were saying might be you’ve got company headshots and you’re doing one person every 15 minutes.

Colin: I think the biggest thing that photographers could do is to settle themselves before they arrive. To not be in a, not be in a hurry themselves, not just the physical, no I’ve only got ten minutes, but actually I’m at ease with that time. Whatever it is, I’m at ease with it because that shows that you’re confident, it shows that you’re okay with where they’re at and the important thing is to meet them where they’re at. And it might be that that person, when you arrive, you’re calm and present, they’re all over the place, in which case listening to them. So what’s going on for you now? Where are you now? What would be best for you to know? And it might be that they say, well it’s a wedding; I’ve got to do this and that. And you know, as a photographer it’s far more than it’s just a wedding, there’s a lot going to be happening and so how do you might want to help them settle by the way you arrive? So Marcus talked about my voice and about how it draws you in. It can also settle people. So if one person can settle, the photographer can settle, the other person can ask them questions, be right from the word go, so how are you today? And actually mean it. And when they tell you how they are, they must say, oh, I’m just fine. And you go, really? Fine, you got a wedding coming up, you must be excited or something. And they go, yeah, but it’s busy, busy, busy. Yeah, I can imagine, tell me more. They go, well, this is going on, this is going on. And when they say something like, the catering is a nightmare, all you need to say is catering with a question and they’ll tell you some more about the catering. And so you’re interested in them and it shows you’re interested in them and people value that. There’s something about when you’re a very good listener, people like you and love you and trust you. And the strange thing is what you’ve done is just listen. I know it sounds just, I hate putting the just in there, but the listening is such an important part of and we don’t see it as well. I don’t think it’s valued as much as it really is.

Marcus: Yeah, I was just going to start wrapping up. Sam by know we’ve talked about listening quite a lot. I think the information that Colin’s given us and how to really listen, how to deep listen on another level, is so crucial, not just for business, but just for so many aspects of your life.

Sam:  And I think one of the things I’m really taking away is that, like you just said, that the way you turn up, the way just you appear. So if we take the photography example, but there are so many yes. Does the photographer rush in, put his stuff down and go, right, where are we going? We’ve got ten minutes. Or are they organized and they’re calm and they’re listening?

Colin: Yeah, it’s different, isn’t it? Even just the words you said, the way you said it, I had in my mind this person running and go, right, come on, we got to do this. We got to do this. Rather than the other one arrives and says, right, I look the part, I’ve got my stuff, I’m in control. That’s what they want. They want reassurance. Okay, where are we at? What sort of I understand this is a wedding. Tell  me about the wedding. I’m interested. And we can convey that clear message that we’re interested in them, but we’ve got to arrive first. And then those simple things like wait 3 seconds. And what more, people will tell you what more, they’re excited, it’s a wedding, it’s a birthday, it’s whatever it is, they want to tell you these things and so they want to be heard. And so we owe it to them to be heard. Once they’ve been heard, they’re going to listen to our experience because as I said earlier, we’ve done hundreds of weddings, hundreds of birthdays or whatever. This is not new to us, but we don’t need to be so blasé. This is going to be special for you; I’m making sure of that. And I can give you one example, one quick example. So I got married last year and we went to the registry office first on the Sat team. And then we got married, what we call married properly on the Sunday. And for us it was just my wife and I, a friend, and then two people who were going to be witnesses. That was it. And we just told him that. But the woman there listened to us and listened and said, okay, fine, well I’m going to make this special for you. And she really did because she knew what to do. We trusted her and both of us were moved by the way she made it special for us.

Sam: Yeah, that’s been really interesting. Colin there is so much for us to think about. Often we kind of wrap up, but I’m not sure we can wrap up. You kind of have to listen to it all, really. Yeah. So much for us to think about in business, in life. It is amazing. So I am sure lots of listeners will want to hear more. So how can our listeners get hold of you if they want to? Colin.

Colin: I have a website which is And I can also give you my telephone number and call me on that if you want, which is 793-901-3651, and you can look me up on LinkedIn. I’m known as the Listener. And it’s Colin D. Smith.

Sam: Amazing. We’ll put all of the links for all of those into the show notes. So you just read those and they will be there. I think your phone number maybe should be like the listening line and people can.

Colin:  that would be good.

Sam: So don’t forget, if you want some bonus content, you want to listen to more of the conversation between Colin and Marcus and I. Then subscribe to the newsletter. You get all sorts of extras, hints and tips from Marcus’s eye and bonus podcast content. To subscribe to the newsletter, all you need to do is go to the website websiteforphotographers.Co.UK forward slash podcast that’s with the number four forward slash podcast. Subscribe to the newsletters, get the bonus extras.

Marcus:  Thank you. Nice one, Colin. Well, that was a great show, wasn’t it?

Colin: Yeah, I enjoyed it. Thank you. And Sam.

Marcus:  Thank you very much. Sam. See you in the next one, Sam.

Sam:  Yep, we’ll see you next time. Thanks so much, Colin. Thank you everyone for and we’ll see you next time.