What is listening? Take the test:
A: A physical process where sound waves expelled from mouths may or may not end up in the right auricle and be transported to the brain where it will be made sense of
B: A permanent opportunity to interrupt the speaker to announce your own opinions and experiences in detail
C: A chance for speaker and listener to get to know and understand one another better and reap the benefits of that understanding
Communication consultants are paid by their customers to listen and talk for them professionally. Listen and talk? Is the entire communication industry founded on the dead-simple principle that every baby should learn from its parents? Well, yes, actually it is. But analyse this simple listen and talk example at micro level – two people at a birthday party:
(Figure A) – So, what exactly do you do?
(Figure B) – I work as a communication consultant.
(Figure A) – Ah, so you’re in advertising.
In this common example, something has gone wrong during the sense-making process in the brain, so incorrect conclusions are being drawn from the individual (by definition limited) reference frame. It happens almost as often that figure A puts his own ego centre stage with a reply such as, ‘Oh, my mother/sister/friend works in communication, too, actually, but me, I’m…’ And numerous sentences follow featuring the word ‘I’. Really listening, showing genuine interest in the other person instead of yourself is already quite a feat, even in an overseeable situation between two people.
At Fleishman-Hillard we work for various clients who often operate worldwide and want to communicate with millions of stakeholders, such as the press, (potential) customers, shareholders and interest groups. How can you organise talking and listening with all those parties at macro level?
Keep it simple. Our advice to the speaker: put yourself in the other party’s shoes and think carefully about the message you want to convey. A simple principle, but it often proves to be nothing like so simple in practice. After all, it’s a mega ego killer. Is it relevant information as far as you’re concerned, but not at all for the listener? Then get rid of it. Yes, it can be painful. But it’s the only way to make sure your message is so relevant that people genuinely want to hear it.
The better a company is able to listen, the better its own message will be heard. That’s the essence. And the nice thing is: it also applies to people in daily life. You might well want to talk about more than the weather at a birthday party, for example.