Listening is Hard



As an intelligent business owner and entrepreneur in the 21st century, you are already very aware of the importance of listening to your customers, prospects and audience (your Visitors / Audience / Customers / Community (VACC): you can read more about what this looks like here …..). “Listen” is, however, a word that is subject to as many interpretations as there are ears…
Going a bit deeper, what kinds of listening are there that you can leverage?
Definitions of types of listening are as varied as there are authors of articles, books and consultancies whose purpose is to guide you to a solution that works for you and your business….a solution that results in the kind of success you’re looking for: that loyalty-balance of relationship quality and profitability, with credibility overall. It’s kind of like a combination of “the right tool(s) for the right job” and a high-wire balancing act.
  • listen-to-understand
  • listen-to-reply
Since every conversation only has 100% of the time allotted for it, whether it’s 20 minutes or 2 hours or more, more listening requires less talking.
So what does more listening actually do for this relationship you’re trying to build?
It is the key to building trust.

“Listening is the key to building trust because of three important factors:
  1. I am much more inclined to trust a person who shows respect for me and for what I say.
  2. I am much fore likely to trust you if you’ve listened carefully and helpfully to my problems than if you’ve tried to tell me what my problems are.
  3. The more I’ve told you, the more I trust you.”
Why is listening-to-understand so hard? It seems like it should be so easy. Everyone talks….everyone listens. Well, our brains work WAY faster than our speech can translate into sounds, so we think ahead….there are, if you will, gaps in the conversation, as our senses perceive them. Into these gaps we stick all manner of flotsam. It’s not evil to go into a conversation with an idea of what the topic(s) will be, but shelving your expectations and allowing the other person the latitude to express the problems, opportunities, fears, etc. they have will be of greater value to understanding. These so-called gaps can be filled with expanded intention and openness to what they are saying, along with all the non-spoken conversation taking place, so you can truly get a better handle on what is being conveyed.
Here are three approaches you might use to derail the “listening-to-reply” impulse:
  1. “I, Robot” – With all apologies to Issac Asimov, this approach involves considering gaining information with as few preconceived ideas as possible about how the conversation is going to take place. Any questions you ask would be because you genuinely want information. Just gathering information without evaluating it makes for much better listening. You are avoiding a pre-decision of the right-or-wrong, good-or-bad, and strange-or-familiar appearance ()…to YOU…) of the information. Taking it in without prejudice, perhaps taking the robot idea one step further, with the thought that you will have to output the information later will require you to pay even closer attention and remain unbiased.
  2. Negative Evidence – One of the most natural cognitive processes we encounter in ourselves is confirmation bias. This bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms your preexisting beliefs. We always look for evidence that supports what we already believe. Negative evidence is a counter to that as a cognitive process. What it means in a listening context is developing a technique to search for evidence that runs counter, or disputes, our first reactions or current data set. This will help us pay closer attention to what is being said, instead of either “filling in the blanks” with what we already believe, or readying a riposte to their arguments or information (this is classic listen-to-reply behavior…). This is not an easy task. If you make up your mind to seek out the ideas that might prove you wrong, as well as those that might prove you right, you are in less danger of missing what someone is really trying to say.
  3. Listen for Ideas, Not Just Facts – Ideas are much more than a bag of facts. People wish to convey their ideas, so just listening to the surface of the conversation won’t get to what is behind the information. Facts are generally given as examples to support the ideas. When we listen in a focused way to understand the ideas, the facts become secondary in importance. Grasping the ideas is the mark of a good listener. Don’t get me wrong…facts are important! However, once you understand the idea, the facts line up and are more easily pieced into the dialogue.
Take one of these approaches the next time you’re headed into a dialogue with a member of your VACC, and note how much more value you both get from it!
Here are some great resources for deeper dives into listening:

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