“Do you listen to reply or listen to understand?” is the question the Espresso team were asked last month as we sat in the Old Leura Barn, tucked away in the heart of the Blue Mountains. We were at our first-ever Espresso offsite and Anni and Priscilla of Anniinc were taking us through a half-day session about quality communication (more about the offsite can be read in Corrie’s post here). Listening is easy, right? There isn’t any specific formula – or is there?
It slowly dawned on me that many times I have listened while getting ready to formulate a response, instead of first trying to truly understand the topic or issue. How many times have I sat in a meeting when a question or idea has suddenly popped into my head that I just must say – oh, if only that person would stop and take a breath – and as a result, only half-listened to what was being discussed? As we continued to delve deeper into this issue, it turns out I wasn’t the only in the room guilty of committing this crime. It’s all too easy for us to filter what other people are saying and make recommendations based on our worldviews and experiences, without first aiming to see the world from their eyes.
Interestingly, the ability to listen and understand is an issue that’s been around since the Beginning of PR – or at least 1906. Ivy Lee, the man accredited with developing the modern media release, described PR as a “two-way street” of helping clients listen as well as communicate messages to their publics. (FYI, it turns out Ivy Lee later turned to the Dark Arts of PR which you can read more about in this interesting article about the History of PR but perhaps that’s for another post.)
Listening before communicating sounds like a no-brainer yet Anni and Priscilla’s session was a timely reminder that as communications consultants, we pride ourselves on our ability to tell our client’s story but if we haven’t listened and understood the full story, we might only be telling half of it! We might miss the valuable gems because we don’t agree with what’s being discussed or want to stick to the way it’s always been done. To ensure we are actively listening, here are a few tips we discussed at our offsite that I’d like to share:
1. Be objective and have an open mind – try and listen as if it’s the first time you’ve heard the topic or idea (even when it’s not!)
2. Ask the question which may seem obvious or silly – chances are someone in the room is thinking the same thing (hat tip to you Corrie, for this one J)
3. Reiterate what the person has said to ensure you’re on the same page
I’m sure these three points are just the tip of the iceberg and we’d love to hear what you do to follow in the wise words of Stephen Covey and “seek first to understand, then to be understood”.