Are You Listening? (Really?)

Listen, Understand, Act
Image by highersights via Flickr

Listening is not a one-way process. It’s not just about hearing. Listening often requires you to dig so you really understand what’s being said.

I was reminded of this in the webinar Friday. Which went great, though the Q&A portion was a little difficult to manage. Normally in a live situation, an audience member asks a question, then you repeat it or paraphrase it, partly so others can hear the question and partly to ensure you’ve understood it correctly.

At that point, you ask the questioner if you’ve captured it successfully. And if you haven’t, you have a little back and forth until you’ve got it right and then you begin your answer.

The webinar made that difficult. People would ask big questions or vague questions and it wasn’t entirely clear exactly what they were asking. So I’m talking and their thoughts are scrolling ever upward in the crowded chat window and it’s all very difficult to nail down.

So in one case I ended up doing what so many people do when they fail to listen well. I made assumptions and proceeded to answer the question I heard instead of the one that was asked.

I had made a point about getting out there and networking and presenting yourself well in the marketplace. Someone asked, “I’m a big extrovert, and this is sometimes overwhelming to others. Any suggestions?”

What I heard was, this guy’s a successful networker because he’s an extrovert and he understands how those events can be overwhelming to non-extroverts. Do I have any suggestions for them? Which makes no sense when you actually read the question above, but that’s how I interpreted it in the context of my remarks.

Plus, it just wouldn’t occur to me that being extroverted would be an issue. But that’s the context of this guy’s world. Luckily I eventually got the clarification over chat and was able to address his real question, after spending some time answering the one I’d imagined.

(Though I’m not sure I was successful. What’s a good answer for that? I talked about recognizing boundaries, reading body language, holding back and asking more questions and talking less.)

But it was a great reminder. Too often I—we—answer the question we want or expect to hear instead of the one that was actually asked. And we over-think it, outsmarting ourselves in the process.

As I say in the book, “listening is the most important skill in acting, business and in life.” Time to do it better!