If we do the math, that means your brain is idle for roughly 75% of the time someone is speaking to you.
Brains don’t like to be idle.
Brains like motion, activity, movement – DOING.
Our oddly wired brains aren’t the only problem; we can also blame social media for our half-assed listening behaviors. Consider the rules of social media marketing, which focus on making and rewarding noise:
- You should share several times a day (source)
- You should engage frequently by publishing content people want and participating in forums (source)
- The more shares you’ve got, the more shares you’ll get
- The more followers you’ve got, the more followers you’ll get
Success metrics for YouTube are all about counting views, subscribers, likes and comments. Google / YouTube naturally rewards views with cold hard cash. When you make enough noise frequently enough that people hear said noise, you get rewarded. Even trolls get rewarded (with tons of attention) for adding to the noise.
As marketers, we’re so used to pushing noise that it’s hard to stop and listen.
Listening is an act you won’t be rewarded for. Not like you will for making noise.
Think about it: does anyone receive rewards from others, like upvotes or ad revenue, forlistening?
I’m not talking about rewards for being quiet – not at all. I’m talking about social, financial and other rewards for showing that you’ve listened. Commenters don’t get rewarded. There is no mechanism in place to easily reward people who actually took in and processed what you said in your YouTube video, blog post or Facebook Live. The reward goes to the noisemaker. There is no social reward – and no subsequent dopamine release – for the listener.
We’re trained to talk not listen.
When we think of great leaders, we recognize the great talkers, such as Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, rather than the quiet ones who listen. I challenge you to name three leaders who preferred an open ear to filling the void with words. How many of your past employers have quietly taken in what you’ve said, processed it and – only after truly listening to you – responded to you? How many boardroom conversations go like that.In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey explains our desire to speak – not to listen – as our desire to be understood:
“If you’re like most people, you probably seek first to be understood. You want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation, or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely.”
Now as I’m writing this, I’m conscious of the fact that a few of y’all may be thinking this:
“Oh, but I AM a great listener. I hear and could repeat back to you every word you said to me.”
Hearing is using your ears to listen to noises; listening is making meaning from sound. So, to be a great listener, we must make meaning from – aka understand – what other people say.
To do that, we use different ways of listening like these:
- Pattern recognition: You can pick out your name when it’s spoken in a crowded room.
- Selective muting: You’ll ignore a sound that’s repeated excessively.
- Unconscious filters: You’ll mute or amplify what you’re hearing based on a range of unconscious filters – culture, language, values, beliefs, expectations, intentions – that create your reality.
We’re gonna get into how to be a great listener soon. But here’s a simple starting point: To be a good listener, your job is to be an engaged, active participant in the conversation. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman of Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development consultancy, put it in clear terms:
“[Good listeners are people] you can bounce ideas off of – and rather than absorbing your ideas and energy, they amplify, energize and clarify your thinking. They make you feel better – not merely passively absorbing – but by actively supporting.”
Being active and engaged is a huge part of listening.
And here’s why listening is so important to marketers:
When we listen to our customers, non-customers and readers, we can fix business problems using what they tell us. And then cool things happen. Like suddenly you see a 52% uplift in conversions (like Moz did after hosting live customer interviews). Or you establish a stronger value prop, like Jen Havice did. Or you know what product to build – Jobs to Be Done consultants at The Rewired Group famously use voice-of-customer data to recommend new products to some of the world’s most innovative companies.
As marketers, our whole job is to listen. All of your best copy comes from what customers say – not what’s inside your head – as Jo has talked about:
- Twice at Business of Software
- On podcasts like this one and this one
- At Wistiafest and Learn Inbound and Content Jam
- And in a million other places