Listen up!

Tips and techniques to help you hear what’s really being said.

Diana Lillicrap 11.17.2021

Listening is key for marketers. Good listening leads to understanding what audiences want. It allows us to use language that resonates with others. And it enables us to be persuasive with tools, tactics, and words.

But we are human. And the human brain makes listening more difficult than you may realize. In fact, our brains are proficient at summarizing what we hear, which is a good thing most of the time. But when you are practicing unbiased listening, your mind can lead you astray. Your brain interprets what you hear through your lens, not the lens of the speaker. You become a filter influenced by your own values, experiences, and opinions. As a marketer, you have to take what you hear and translate it into content for target audiences. If what you interpret is too greatly influenced by your own personal perspectives, you are less likely to communicate in a way that will hit the mark with the intended recipients of your marketing communications.

If you want to approach your listening from a more neutral position, here are some suggestions to break the existing filtering habits you’ve become accustomed to using.

Capture the quote

Many of us take notes during business meetings or phone conversations. That’s great. But next time try to capture the exact words someone says when they are making a key point. Put quotes around it in your notes so you know those were the other person’s specific words, not your interpretation of them. Combined with your normal notes from the meeting, these quotations will not only help you hear the real words being said, they may also feed your thinking differently when you come back to your notes for insight.

Capturing quotes is a nice way to hear key phrases without putting it through your mind’s filter, but trying to do this for detailed conversations or when someone is making a lot of key points is harder than you think. According to the National Center for Voice and Speech, the average American rate of speech is around 150 words per minute. Unfortunately, most of us only write about 13 words per minute or type closer to 40 – 70 words per minute. That’s why we need a few more ways to capture all that’s being said.

Record the experience

I often wish I had a rewind or pause button in my brain. I’d love to replay a lot of my conversations (and let’s be honest, play them back to my kids to say “See, I did say that!”). Well, with many of us using Zoom or other online tools to conduct meetings, that wish is becoming a reality. Of course, you’ll want to make sure the participants in your call are aware you are recording the conversation, but it can be a very helpful tool to use when you need to go back and revisit goals, phrases, and words that others shared around an idea. It’s also an opportunity to look again at body language, facial expressions, or even what’s not being said by people on the call or in the room.

In addition to recording the audio or video of the meeting, it’s also a good idea to screen share visual notes from the conversation. This allows the team to confirm (or amend) what’s been said and it also makes people feel heard when you capture their words on the screen in front of everyone. There are a variety of virtual meeting tools to help you create a white board experience and capture a digital record of what’s being said. One of our favorites is Conceptboard,

Stop talking

If you want to make sure you are really listening to others it takes a bit of discipline to withhold your own ideas. Remain quiet while others are speaking and even for a few beats after. It might feel a little awkward, but giving people extra time and space after they complete a thought usually leads them to say more or repeat the idea in a different way. That’s a good thing. The speaker can elaborate and confirm exactly what you need to know. And our own silence actually makes our brains work better. Contrary to what most of us might think, we are not good at multi-tasking. We can’t really be listening and thinking about what we are about to say and then saying it all at once. Something has to give, and that something is usually the hearing part. So, take a verbal break and let your ears do more work to inform your mind. 

Say it back

Being a filter for information is a good skill to have as a marketer as long as that filter is not distorting ideas or leaving out key information. One way to check your filter is to take time to wrap up and reiterate what you think you’ve heard at the end of a conversation or team meeting. This allows the other people in the discussion to validate or modify anything you heard as a key takeaway. It’s also a good way to make sure everyone agrees with decisions that have been made and steps that will be taken next—a paramount measure of an effective meeting.

With a little work, we can all do better to hear what’s truly being said with fresh ears and unbiased minds.

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