Innovation. Ideas. Insight.

Listening Requires More Than Ears

In Uncategorized on February 6, 2009 at 10:04 am

A week ago I published a post with advice for young PR pros. Thanks to some generous Retweeting from people like Sarah Evans (a PR superstar and the brains behind #Journchat and Vid Pro Co) and Heather Huhman (who helps young PR pros land gigs) it got a lot of attention.  Many people picked up on a specific piece of advice – the importance of listening – so I’m going to blow that out a bit with some additional thoughts on the subject.

First, let me comment on some of the comments regarding listening. DJ Francis of the OnlineMarketerBlog (a must read) called it “the easiest and most overlooked professional trait…”  Most overlooked, perhaps, but I don’t know if I would call it the easiest. Not to really do it right anyway. Listening requires at least as much effort as talking .

Aaron Endre wrote a very thoughtful follow up post where he addresses Social Media users and their tendencies to post/Tweet/update/etc. incessently, without taking the time to stop and listen to others.

Julie Wright picked up on the notion that so many people are busy forming their next question or comment, that they aren’t even listening to the person they are “listening” to. This is so true and you can really see the difference between a professional interview and an amateur in this regard. Watch guys like Leno or Letterman. Watch how intently they look at their guests and engage with them.

If you want to be a good listener, ask good questions.

One additional skill that I think is related to being a good listener, and is also exhibited by people like Leno or Letterman is the ability to ask a good question.  Here’s an exchange I seem to overhear all the time:

Guy #1 (walking up to friend): “Hey man, how’s it going?”

Guy #2: Good man, how about you?”

Guy #1: Good, good. So, how are you?”

I don’t think either of these guys are really listening to each other. But the problem is they are asking questions that will elicit poor answers.  In order to listen, and ultimately help someone, you need to ask the right types of questions.  Don’t ask someone “How it’s going” because nine times out of 10 they are going to respond with “Good.” Not much you can do with that.  Instead of “how,” ask “what.” 

“What are you working on?”

“What’s happening with the new job?”

“What sort of information can I provide you with?”

Those sorts of questions encourage conversation.

Don’t just listen with your ears.

So, listening requires not just ears, but brains as well. The smarts to ask the right questions. But good listening also requires heart.

Listening is a selfless act, and that’s really hard for most people. We are so interested in telling others about ourselves, we can’t wait for the other person to stop talking.  You’ve got to let go of that before the conversation begins.  From a PR professional perspective, I usually start conversations with media by saying, “Have I caught you at a bad time?” Now the conversation is about them, not me. It’s about their time, not mine.

Don’t try to listen when you want to talk

It’s a lot easier to listen when your goal isn’t to be the one talking. So, try calling up a member of the media when you don’t have something to pitch. It’s Monday morning, maybe it’s a little slow around 10:30am. Why not call the guy from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and talk about the Super Bowl. Your contact doesn’t have to be a sports writer, in fact, it’s probably better if he/she isn’t. But if they live in Pittsburgh, they’ve got an opinion about the game. A quick 10 minute chat, no pitch, just a chat with a friend. See how much better you are at listening when you aren’t worried about how you’re going to bring up that ‘value-added, best-in-class widget’ your client just launched.

Thanks again to everyone who commented, I really appreciate and value the time you spent engaging with me. I hope to get the chance to listen to more of your thoughts.

  1. Great Post. Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, “You have two ears and one mouth, and you should use them in that proportion.” A lot of people and brands spend so much time pumping out content but they forget to stop and actually pay their own dues in terms of reading what their community has to say. Not only does that give your audience the sense of a two way conversation, but it makes sure that the info you do provide caters to their interests and needs.

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