There is what we say. And there is what we mean.
The vast majority of the time, what we say and what we’re trying to say are not the same thing. It’s not that we’re attempting to hide something. To the contrary, most of us are trying, to the best of our ability, to insure that the words we speak or write, align with what we really mean. Words often fail us.
It’s hard enough when we’re speaking. When we write, making this alignment happen is even harder. And we’re all the same. Knowing this should help us understand how critically important it is to “listen to learn.”
More than words.
Listening to learn is listening with a desire to understand more than the words being written or spoken. It requires that we strive to listen between the words for what the speaker is really trying to say. Listening to learn requires what some call, “active listening.” And it is active because the listener becomes a participant in communication process, not a passive observer. When listening to learn, we become an assistant in the communication process, helping the speaker communicate the full meaning of what they want to say.
Using this strategy allows us to critically analyze the information being presented to us. It helps us get to full truth. And it’s not just about understanding fully what is being said, but also internal biases and what someone’s true wants and needs might be.
Communicating what we really mean is hard with an unlimited number of characters at our disposal. It becomes nearly impossible when confined to 140 characters on Twitter, or the confines of a status update box on Facebook. Even the best of writers have difficulty expressing full meaning in these restrictive environments. Now, combine those limitations with the speed at which these updates are written, and the opportunity to benefit from listening to learn becomes even greater.
We learn by expanding on a thought or by asking questions.
This is the nexus of how real conversations begin. Let me use a very specific example. The graphic to the right is a small portion of a recent exchange on Twitter.
Sherry Chris, in the context of a presentation that those of us on Twitter were not present at, said, “people are buying lifestyle and community.” It was Tweeted out by Leigh Hays, who, I assume, was in the audience.
From there it could have simply been retweeted with an “I agree” added in for good measure. It’s one of those tweets that was ripe to be picked up by a score of people operating unconsciously in “listening for reinforement” mode. It’s a statement that certainly reinforces a commonly held belief. Few would disagree with it on its surface.
But, since Maura Neill was actually at the presentation as well, she added some context to the it when she retweeted it. Her tweet is what caught Matthew Shadbolt’s attention. And that is when the conversation on Twitter began. Matthew then took the thought in a different direction by adding, “True, but often misinterpreted by those in RE.” This expanded on the thought. It may not have even been conscious, but this kind of expansion is a listening to learn tool. By adding his branching thought, Matthew provided an opportunity to dig deeper.
My question, the second and most common listening to learn tool, sprang from his expansion. I asked, “What does their misinterpretation look like?” From there, a short conversation about what “lifestyle and community” really mean was able to progress. We learned what Matthew really meant. And ultimately, we got a better understanding of what Sherry Chris meant. The speaker and the listener both benefit from this kind of interaction.
The benefit of engagement.
Listening to learn is about you engaging others. Actively. Success in any business is about building stronger relationships. It’s about increasing your influence. When we truly engage with those who are speaking with us, when we take the time to go deeper and seek understanding and meaning, we accomplish both.
This is the listener’s responsibility. Are you a listener?
This is the fourth in a five part series of posts on Listening As Strategy.