25 Mar

Low-Tech Listening

In social media, “listening” as a term is fast-approaching overuse to the point of obsolescence. Yes, we need to listen (and watch). Yes there are all sorts of very cool tools to help you do that.

But the best tool? Your own ears. (And eyes.)

Next time you need to prove to someone the value of listening (and how very simple and powerful it can be), try this:

After you’ve been talking with someone for a while, stop and ask them:

Based on our conversations, what do you know about me? Tell me as many things as you can recall.

It doesn’t matter whether the conversation at hand is the first you’ve ever had or the 5,000th, nor whether those conversations have happened face-to-face, over the phone, by tweet, text, email, or through exchanged comments on a blog.

The point is, we pick up information about people whether we think we do or not. We also give out a lot of information about ourselves—again often unconsciously. Most of us never stop and put it all together, but then again, many of those who are paying good money for incredibly useful listening tools aren’t doing anything with those reports, either.

But making those connections, finding the right time and right way to match up a useful piece of information with what someone cares about, not only demonstrates the level of attention you’re paying, but more importantly, the level of respect you have for them, whether they’re a long-time friend or a (potential) customer you’ve just met.

Being able to show someone how much they’ve picked up by just listening to you (or how much you’ve learned by listening to them) is a powerful way to show the impact listening can have.

Can you fake it? Sure. But most people’s bullshit detectors are finely tuned.
Sincere listening—sincere attention—results in sincere action. Listening isn’t useful until you do something with it.

So try it yourself: pick a person you know (hell, you can even try this with me, in the comments), grab a sheet of paper (virtual or otherwise), and start to list everything you know about them. Not just the obvious things they tell everyone or that are clearly on display or that they’re known for, but those things they may have mentioned only in passing, and out of the normal context of conversation.

Off the top of my head, when thinking of people you may know, too, I can think of someone who’s an expert swing dancer. Someone whose father is a scalloper. Someone who almost missed making the connection with their now-wife. Someone who has a strange passion for personality quizzes (which I also share). Someone who takes care of foster dogs. Someone’s whose young life was marked with unfathomable tragedy. Someone who, for all their high-tech ways, carries their most important thoughts around with them in a pocket-sized notebook, filled with drawings.

Knowing these things about these people shapes what I share with them, and how. It shapes my understanding of their motivations, of their personality. It shapes how I interact with them, what I talk with them about, how I frame things. Maybe they don’t notice. Maybe they do. But I find that the more points of connection I can find and share with someone, the more useful and valuable I can be to them.

And isn’t that the goal?

So, have you been listening? What have you learned?