“If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.” Turkish Proverb
Listening is key
As a PR/Communications person, I may be a bit of a strange bird, because I am preoccupied with listening. However, I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide, “I’m going to focus on listening.” It gradually became a concept that concerned and engrossed me both personally and professionally, especially as I became more deeply involved with Social Media.
When you look out over the ocean, you have a view of the surface. You see what is going on top; the waves, the spray, the writhing mass of water, constantly undulating, pulsing, and moving. That was what social media looked like to me a few short years ago.
Once you immerse yourself, the perspective is quite different. You are surrounded, inundated, overwhelmed. Water enters all your orifices; even your pores and you consider just letting go because it is engulfing, consuming, overpowering. You are just so totally surrounded and overloaded by sensory input, you might as well be drowning. That’s sort of how Social Media was for me at the start.
It made me think about how I would participate, because I wanted it to be meaningful and useful, both for myself and for others. So I thought about it and decided what I wanted to accomplish and what my strategy should be. I decided I needed to be fully aware, conscious of and focused on listening, to ensure I wasn’t just broadcasting and adding to the noise. Much easier said than done.
In Social Media, it’s just so easy to send information and messages out there, just as in life, it’s easy to just talk, to instruct, tell, inform, and advise. But what good is putting it out there if it isn’t heard? So at the start of each week, as a reminder to myself, I tweet a quote about listening. Here is my favourite, so far.
“We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.”― Zeno of Citium, as quoted by Diogenes Laërtius
Listening is deliberate
So how can we really listen? Here are the things I have learned to do:
Prepare yourself to listen. Just as you get ready to do a job by getting the tools or information ready, you need to set yourself up to listen.
Get rid of the distractions. Shut down, put away, or face away from your monitor, smart phone, agenda or anything that might take your focus away from your conversation.
“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” M. Scott Peck
A difficult task to master
You cannot listen passively. You must listen actively. Put aside your ego. Listen with your id.
Block your inner dialogue. Be in the moment. Screen out the noise, which may interfere with hearing what is being said.
Look at the person. Make regular eye contact, but don’t stare.
Pay attention to the body language. Shifting around signals discomfort, do what you to try and reassure the person you are open to hear what they have to say and won’t judge. Crossed arms and sitting back indicate a withdrawal.
Make sure your body language conveys your openness. Relaxed posture, open limbs, leaning or head titled slightly forward helps show this. Nod in encouragement for the person to continue. “Mirroring” or having/using similar gestures, is interpreted as empathy.
Speak when asked a direct question, or only if the silence goes on to long, to paraphrase something indicating you are engaged, or ask an open-ended question.
“Man’s inability to communicate is a result of his failure to listen effectively.” Carl Rogers
The art of listening
The Social Media milieu is a different kettle of fish (to stick with my ocean analogy) entirely from personal contact. You cannot look the person in the eye, see their expression, hear the tone of their voice, or observe their body language. So what can you do to help ensure you listen effectively?
Be mindful. Don’t just broadcast anything. Ask yourself if the information you are about to share has meaning or value for others.
Follow the thread. This will enable you to understand the context.
Read the material referenced. Reading the background, articles or blog posts mentioned or linked to the comment or post, will provide you with an appreciation of where the author is coming from.
I know “lurking” is frowned upon, but when you’re starting out or unsure I think a certain amount of what I prefer to call “observation” is prudent and should even be encouraged.
Try and believe that everyone has the best intentions. Otherwise, it’s far too easy to become offended, angered or indifferent.
And none of those three emotions are conducive to listening.
“Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery.” Dr Joyce Brothers