Sun, September 14 2008

Why and how to listen

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

My father does a funny thing with chairs.  If he hasn’t seen you for a long time, he’ll rearrange the furniture so he can sit directly across from you and fully absorb every word you utter.  At my house, he once moved an immense armchair and ottoman clear across the living room to better hear an old friend sitting on my sofa.

It was startling gesture for the friend.  It was something I’m used to.  My father always removes any obstacle that gets in the way of listening to friends or family or patients in his work as a psychiatrist.  My whole life, he has started most conversations with the words, “Tell me everything.”  Now he says it to my own children.

This is very, very rare.

We don’t face each other very much any more, and we rarely listen.  We are stunned when someone devotes their full attention to us.  Imagine if you did that for the people you want to reach. Imagine what might change.

Bad things happen when we stop paying attention to the people around us.  We lose them.  Our relationships suffer.  Social injustices occur – just ask a homeless person how invisible she feels.  Our supporters abandon us.  Our customers hate us.  (Our customers really hate us – look no further than, a website devoted to people frustrated their complaints are not heard by United Airlines.)

My frolleague Mark Rovner and I believe that extraordinary things happen when we recognize people – when we truly hear, see and acknowledge them.  Making people FEEL HEARD creates great relationships, strong societies, powerful organizations and profitable, popular businesses. 

That’s different from listening to everything people say and acting upon what they say.  Seth Godin has helped me see that distinction.  They key thing is to make people feel heard - and then as a leader of a customer service department or philanthropic organization, figuring out what patterns in the comments and subtext beneath the comments signal something you should address.

Make sure, as Seth says, you have a way for them to speak.  That gives you a way to make them feel heard.

More on that this week.


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