Listening As Strategy – Listening To Help

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“I am here for you.”

When I read Thich Nhat Hahn‘s words on January 3, 2011, it all clicked for me again. For well over a year, I had been struggling to figure out why I wasn’t finding satisfaction in my work. Life was good, but I was going through the motions relative to business. The joy that had been present through most of my career, was simply not there. I decided to use my week long stay at The Ranch in Malibu to try and figure out if it was time to find something else to do with my life.

My wife had given me the book, “You Are Here” to read while I was at The Ranch, saying, “this will help get you in the right frame of mind.” She was right. Only two days into the retreat, I read the following words and it became crystal clear what was missing: “In daily life, we are often lost in thought. We get lost in regrets about the past and fears about the future. We get lost in our plans, our anger, and our anxiety. At such moments, we cannot really be here for ourselves. We are not really here for life.”

I had lost my sense of purpose. I had forgotten WHY I was doing the work. And as I read the words attached to the practice, “I am here for you,” it suddenly all made sense again. And a question emerged.

What if I could bring that mindset to everything I touched?

What if each person who walked away from an interaction with me (online or off) could leave saying, “he was there for me?” How would that change the way I perceived every interaction? What would I have to do to live to that standard and how would it change how I approached every task? It would be transformative.

The thought of it energized me and gave the remainder of my week a focus that triggered a chain reaction of insights that I’m still working through six months later. I will probably be working through them for the rest of my life. One thing, however,  was crystal clear. To create this shift in mindset, I needed to get rid of the distractions that were keeping me from truly being present in all of my interactions and take my listening to another level. I needed to spend way more time “listening to help.

That’s harder than it sounds. Before you can be here for someone else, you must actually be here, fully, living in the moment. It sounds simple enough, but it’s not. We’re often not truly present. Our minds wander and lead us away from the now, to the past, and to the future, to things we have no control over, to things not present.

Yet being present is essential. It allows you to to truly listen. And to truly listen to help, you need to focus on the questions and tune out the distractions that might keep you from finding them. You need to recognize when listening for reinforcement and listening to reply are getting in the way and focus first on listening to learn. If you can strive to listen between the words for what the speaker is really trying to say, you might even hear questions that haven’t been asked yet. But at a minimum, you’ll be in the right frame of mind to answer any question that reveals itself in a way that’s truly beneficial to the person asking the question.

Listening to help. Seeking question marks.

Gahlord Dewald calls this tactic scanning for “the special hashtag people use when they are looking to be helped.” In the online listening space, the question mark is indeed that. And they are are all around us. Seeing them is one thing, being in the right head space to access their power is quite another. Because real power comes when you can enter each interaction with the mindset, “I am here for you. I’m here to help.” Not, “I’m here for me. I want something from you.”

To be clear, there is a secondary motivation. Shadowing the motivation to help is the motivation to influence. And one of the most basic principles of influence is reciprocity. People tend to return favors. When you help someone, when you truly help them, they are almost certainly going to help you in return. The danger, as with any tactic, is that motives are not always pure. This is where the “I am here for you” focus becomes critical.

Think, how can I help someone right now?

In the online space, knowing how to use some very specific tools can help. Gahlord’s method of quickly scanning for question marks  can certainly be effective in finding the potential questions you can answer for those you’ve already identified. This can be done on Twitter using lists or on Facebook using the search “posts by friends” feature.

I use this example all the time. If I were a real estate agent, I’d be looking for questions that allowed me to both connect and help at the same time. Try this – do a search for the word “plumber” on Facebook and at then limit the search to “posts by friends.” Here’s one of the results I found.

Michelle is an old friend in Indianapolis. She needed a plumber. If I were her Realtor®, I’d love to be the one who was able to refer her to a great plumber, really help her out and really help my plumber connection at the same time. Everyone wins in this scenario. Everyone. This is how we connect with people. This is how we gain influence.

On Twitter, I’ve been using a browser plugin called InboxQ for several months. InboxQ does something very unique. It scours Twitter for people asking questions around the keywords you define. You can group variations on the keywords into campaigns. I’ve been using it to answer questions with our Zeek Interactive Twitter account. I focus on wordpress and iPad/iPhone app development questions. I’ve not been particularly disciplined about it, but in the short time I’ve used it, I’ve seen some results worth mentioning.

Example: A few days ago Janet Wallace from Social Deviants asked the following question: “need iPad app developer for digital magazine — need to be able to sell in the store. Suggestions?” I didn’t know Janet and I wasn’t following her. InboxQ found her question for me and this time I simply replied, “if I may toot our own horn, we’re pretty good. :)” In this case, the way to help was to direct her to our services. And if we’re not the right fit, point her to someone who is the right fit.

Tweets were exchanged, emails were sent with links to apps we’ve built and a new relationship was formed. I don’t know where it will lead. I don’t need to. Later in the day Janet tweeted this: “I talked to some new people on Twitter today that made my world bigger = @DeniseWakeman and @zeekinteractive Twas a good day.” Yes, it was a very good day indeed.

I am here for you.

Helping people just makes sense. Listening to help just makes sense. But I beg of you, if you’re going to employ tactics like these, please do it with the right head space. I believe strongly that people can sense when your mindset is “I’m here for me.” And they tend to not like it. If you’re failing in this space, perhaps that’s one of the reasons.


This is the final part of a five part series of posts on Listening As Strategy.

  1. Not Listening
  2. Listening For Reinforcement
  3. Listening To Reply
  4. Listening To Learn
  5. Listening To Help



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  1. says

    Jeff, thank you for this insightful post. I came upon it(and listening series) from someone I follow in Twitter, Sara Bonert. You’re so right. Our anxieties (not to mention our personal agendas) can prevent us from listening effectively. So can the hundreds of communications coming our way each day (each with a need attached). Everyone knows about the importance of being a good listener, but few of us succeed. I have long strived to “be there” for people in their moment of need and I feel as if I both fail and succeed at it on a daily basis.

    • Jeff Turner says

      Stacey, thank you. And thanks to Sara. I know I fail at this far more than I succeed. The goal is worthy of pursuit, regardless. What I’m trying to do more of each day is create spaces that allow me to focus intently and put myself into the right headspace for listening. My recent experience is that I find myself having to repeat the same lessons over and over again. I doubt I’m alone in that. :)

  2. says

    I loved this post and will be re-reading it. Thank you for the action items, we all love those, but I wanted to comment about something more important…

    If you are reading this post and don’t know Jeff, I want to let you know that he practices what he preaches (and was doing so before his more recent “epiphany”).

    As most of do, I went through some seriously difficult times in the not so distant past. About a year or more ago, I posted something (can’t remember what now) on Twitter that must have been very out of character for me. A few minutes later my phone rang…it was Jeff.

    Now, Jeff and I know each other, but we don’t correspond off of Twitter and Facebook and we have never chatted on the phone. He read my Tweet and was concerned that I might not be feeling myself and took it upon himself to reach out, check on me and let me know he was there for me if I needed some support.

    I don’t know, Jeff, if you know how that resonated with me. I think of it often and try to emulate your kindness when I can.

    Thank you and I am here for you, too.

    • Jeff Turner says

      I may be a bit of sap, but you just made me cry, Lesley. Thank you for that. We’re all just a work in progress.

  3. says

    Jeff, I only now have discovered this series. Excellent stuff! Sorry if you have mentioned this elsewhere and I have missed it, but do you plan to put the series together in an ebook or ibook or whatever? I would love to be able to download this to my phone to read and refer back to, especially in places where I don’t have the web.

    • Jeff Turner says

      John, actually, Gahlord Dewald and I have discussed putting together an ebook on this subject. I’m going to forward your comment and push it back to the front burner. Thank you.

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