Today, I was briefing a client on a messaging workshop I’m about to run in London. We talked about what we were going to do and why and it struck me the piece we needed to focus on most was getting under the skin of their targets. If the messages are going to lead with benefits, we have to know what our targets count as benefits.
In the messaging workshop we go through an exercise to bring out the participants’ insights on the target audience, but obviously, those insights are only as good as their existing knowledge. Research will get you so far, but if we’re going to develop a rounded picture of our target audience then we need to listen.
I’ve been a Samaritan for about seven years, am working as a volunteer counsellor and training as a psychotherapist so have done quite a bit of listening in my time.
There are all sorts of tools you can deploy to help you listen including reflecting and clarifying what’s been said, good use of open and closed questions and getting comfortable with silences.
Empathy’s important too. Lots of people will tell you this is about walking in someone else’s shoes to see life from their perspective. The dictionary definition though is ‘the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings’ (Collins English Dictionary). That’s far more than just ‘seeing the world from someone else’s perspective’ it’s attempting to see the world as if you are the other person.
But if we’re going to get it right and really listen, we have to recognize and understand the barriers, the reasons why we don’t hear what’s been communicated, verbally or otherwise.
These can be anything from background noise, quality of the telephone line, or the failure to spot the body language. But for most of us, by far the biggest barrier is our own ‘stuff’. The need to get to another meeting, the other jobs on my to do list, my own prejudices and opinions, trying to make sure I get it right, or my own vulnerabilities. It takes time, energy and continual hard work to stop these invading and taking over the communication process but it’s worth the effort.
If you and your colleagues want to improve your listening skills and by doing so get closer to your clients, customers and targets, get in touch. One of my listening workshops might be exactly what you need.