Friday, June 12, 2009

Have We Forgotten How To Listen? (Or Maybe We Just Never Learned...)

(special thanks to Kneale Mann for sending over this image...)

While having breakfast with my two friends, colleagues and blogmates - Ezra Cooperstein and Thor Clark - it dawned upon us that the mad dash for connectivity and conversation within social media has been roadblocked by one simple, undeniable fact: we don't really know how to listen.

Take Twitter for example. 

When you sign up for a Twitter account, you get the 20-person hit list of celebs that they suggest you should follow. Why? First of all, I don't give a shit about Ashton Kutcher (maybe because I'm 36 years old and straight - certainly no offense to my gay peeps). Secondly, most of these people don't actually listen or have substantive two-way conversations with their fan base. Ezra describes it as a "really loud chamber effect"... essentially, these people shout out relatively inane blurbs about God-knows-what, and to no one in particular. Third, if you look at the "subscriber funnel", you also find that the 90/10 rule which applies - in which 10% of the Twitter population generates 90% of the tweets - ignores the entire mid-tail of folks who actually have something of value to say.

Now, don't get me wrong - I find Twitter to be incredibly powerful and I use it often and with the best of intentions - but this really calls into question the social dynamics around how we listen, and why we should listen more carefully.

I think part of the problem, as articulated poorly in my previous post (sorry, that was a bit of mental masturbation...), is the fact that we're collectively still taking sides and operating in cliques. Let's face it, it ain't easy breaking into the Twitter mix, or to become a member of the "Twitterati" for that matter. 

The other issue is the sheer amount of content that is being slung around - creating a sensory overload of sorts. How can any of us listen, if we're too busy just trying to be heard?

Here are some considerations for improving this cultural deficiency:

- Listening more means learning more (duh...).

- We need to distinguish between what we hear and what has been said (don't dwell on the response before the statement is even finished - we are all guilty of this).

- Sit with your question(s); take the time to understand what is being said before you respond.

- Take the time to really get to know someone, even if it's virtual - do you want a relationship with a person, or a bot?

- Turn off the noise inside your head; interacting socially, even online, is somewhat of a meditative process - we need to be clear and authentic in our communication streams.

- Listening is more powerful than speaking. Really. 

I'm done talking. Say something, damnit.


laurentp said...

Let me meditate on that over the week end.
One of the problem with listening vs talking could come from the fact that, by design of mother nature, we can talk to many people at once but we can't listen to many people at once. If you're given 10 seconds and are asked to grab the attention of 100 gonna talk talk talk...hoping that what you say will resonate in 4-5 of them. Now reverse mother nature's gonna listen listen listen to the whole 100..and have grabbed the attention of all of them.

Gunther Sonnenfeld said...

Very salient point, Laurent... damnit, I should have been listening ;)

No, but seriously, it's true - how do we cut through the noise and keep our listening intact?