Magazine article Business Credit

Learning to Listen to Debtors

Magazine article Business Credit

Learning to Listen to Debtors

Article excerpt

It's well known that if collectors listen more actively and openly to what debtors are saying, they would be better able to connect with the debtor's emotional and financial situation and could move higher in priority of who gets paid, how much and when.

But, learning to listen is extraordinarily difficult. Fortunately, it can be learned. First, let's discuss the reasons for the problems people have in listening and learn what can be done to make you a more productive listener.

* Early in conversation with the debtor, it's easy to get the notion that "I've heard that one a thousand times," which encourages you to tune out the story and not hear what is truly a unique communication, at least to that debtor at that moment.

* Much collection training focuses on "controlling the conversation" and "motivating the debtor to pay." Whenever you try to do either of these, you are not listening. You are in your own head and not the debtor's head. It is helpful to realize that ultimately, you can't control the conversation, although you can control your reaction. Also, you can't motivate or force anybody to do anything, but you can create an environment in which people will find it in their own best interest to motivate themselves.

* We have learned "talkoffs", we are always looking for better "comebacks" and we know how we want the conversation to end - with payment in full. The problem is that when you are focused on the ideas in your own mind, you can't hear all of what is being communicated from the other person.

* Communication consists of words, thoughts and feelings. You can hear the words, but you should tune into the feelings because they are the source of the words and are much more powerful. After all, if someone is upset, you know that you don't get too far using logic and a rational discussion of what is in the debtor's interest.

* Even in the calmest of times, listening is doubly difficult because you have an extra voice to contend with - the "voice in the back of your head" that is constantly judging, evaluating, thinking and worrying.

* There are some things that debtors say that collectors don't want to hear. Collectors don't want to hear about nonpayment, however, it is tempting to become defensive or aggressive, neither of which is likely to produce a good result. Instead, listening and acknowledging bad news leads to more cooperation. If you become skeptical about this, it can be illustrated by role playing or by experience.

Becoming more focused on listening seems to go against the grain of all we've been taught or have learned as collectors. The delusion is that telling the debtor what he must do and "controlling the conversation" will get you money. It does, but the wake-up call comes when you realize that you will collect MORE money when you spend more time listening and less time talking.

By way of analogy, some inexperienced collectors will accept a $50 payment on a $500 account, using the philosophy that "something is better than nothing." That's true, but it doesn't go far enough because "something" is not as good as some thing more. We usually refuse an initial offer that we consider ridiculous because we know we'll usually get more in the negotiation. Sometimes refusing to accept the $50 offered gets you no payment at all. In collections, we have to play the percentages. …

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