Monthly Archives: June 2014

Always a story to tell but no ear to hear?

Half my advertising spend is effective, Lord Leverhume, founder of Lever Brothers, is reported to have said. I just don’t know which half.

Would it be the half that listened to customers? The half that did not merely spout grandiose marketing messages to prospective customers, but stopped to lend them their ears?

Listening is the new marketing, say the marketing gurus. And some companies have created roles called the Chief Listening Officer and the Chief Social Media Officer who will both listen and buffer the noise to engage with customers, employees and other stakeholders. It is also reported that the Clinton team will be appointing a Chief Listener to mitigate the conflict between the old guard and new blood in a run-up to the 2016 presidential campaign.

Listening. A science? An art? Or a fundamental common sense trait that we need to revive in a professional world where everyone seems to have a story to tell and a message to proclaim but not an ear to hear?

It is a fact. Many organizations have a pretty disorganized and an uneven communication system. Leaders struggle to draw a comprehensible connection of the work their managers and frontline employees do to their organization’s strategy and goals. ‘Add value’, some say. ‘Be innovative’, say others. And, ah yes! ‘Think strategically’ is another favorite.

No, this does not help.

What is needed is an authentic space for conversation. Listening creates that. It creates the insight to engage the other person. It helps us know what they think and want, and create buy-in. It brings wisdom that translates data into ‘touch-and-feel’ knowledge and information. It needs to happen before decisions are made, as decisions are being implemented and as the reaction ball starts bouncing back in different directions.

Yet it is an uphill effort. How am I going to listen when I am so habituated to thinking out loud, tweeting or FB-ing my viewpoints? Even when I am face to face with you am I listening to you or actually figuring out what I will say next, before you are even done speaking?

Today’s professional life is a cruelly punishing taskmaster for ineffective communicators, be they individuals or organizations. Take the employee-boss hierarchical ladder. Or the customer-supplier seesaw. Or the shareholder-corporate tightrope. Or the business-public bugle. The balance of power has shifted to those who show nimbleness of action based on their alacrity of listening. It means asking unending questions, practicing affirmative listening for possibilities and joining the dots on diverse ideas for convergent thinking.

The Chief Listening Officer.

Suddenly it does not seem so amusing. It recognizes listening with a ‘chief’ status. It is an alarm that user content cannot be ignored. It is awareness for us to flex our listening bicep to reflect what others say and make them feel heard. It is being the expert guiding hand that sifts the unbounded available intelligence to get the right facts on the desks of the right people at the right time.

On a less daunting note, it is also the serendipity of finding needles in haystacks when you are not even looking for them. Only because you kept all your senses open!