Listen more than you speak. There is obviously a give and take in conversation, but most of us are prone to talk too much. That means listening more requires conscious effort. Planning the conversation, in particular what questions you want to ask, is a helpful step in this direction.
- Ask then pause. When you ask a question, wait about 4-5 seconds to allow the client to respond. Then, if the client seems confused or uncomfortable with the question, rephrase it. But only after giving him or her a sufficient pause.
- Listen then pause. After the client responds to your question, wait another 4-5 seconds before commenting or asking the next question. Often this encourages the client to elaborate on his or her response. At the very least, this pause gives you a moment to think about your response or the next question.
Golden Silence, used properly, works at the subconscious level (in the client) and can really reveal some excellent insights that you would have missed otherwise. But don't overuse it or the client may well notice.
Use verbal cues to expand responses as well. There are a variety of things you can say to prompt the client to give you more detailed and unambiguous responses. "Could you explain how that works?" or "So what happens then?" are just two examples. Mixing these with Golden Silence will give you the best results. But you can't be afraid to reveal that you don't fully understand their initial response, which is a hindrance for some.
Be sensitive of the client's time. The first way to do this is to come prepared to share something of value. Traditional sales calls routinely violate this principle. But you also don't want to overstay your welcome. Don't merely assume that because the client continues the conversation that it's okay to linger. Ask if the client would like to extend the meeting or schedule another conversation later (it's always a good idea to establish a basis for the next meeting!).