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Mary Anne Keane

Listening in Life and in PR

By: Mary Anne Keane | March 19, 2014 | 
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ListeningBy Mary Anne Keane

My son recently turned 13, adding a second teenager to our household.

As I was reminiscing with a friend, who happens to be a very good psychologist, we began talking about how quickly time has passed, and how much our children have changed.

When they were small they idolized us and wanted to be just like us.

But as they move into the hormonal years, they turn into mutants, hardly recognizable. According to them, we know nothing and understand less.

So while we were on the subject, I took advantage of her expertise and simply asked, “Is there a more effective way to communicate with our children?”

And what she told me was what I can only term as an “Oprah aha moment.”

Listening in Life and in PR

Part of our job as parents is to nurture, protect, and advise our children. So when one of them comes to us with a problem, we jump right in and provide advice on how to remedy the situation, or perhaps use a story from our own childhood to let them know we understand.

In short, most parents want to help make their child feel better. After all, that’s what a good parent does, right? Wrong.

My aha moment came when my friend told me the best thing we could do as parents is to listen. That’s it. When one of our children comes to us feeling bad or sad or frustrated, the best thing we can do is to let it be. Just sit with the words they’ve just expressed.

Hold them or hug them, but just be.

Why?

Because when parents jump in to “save” their children from pain or sadness, what we do is devalue what they’ve just told us. It was that simple sentence that really struck a chord with me. I understood immediately. Sometimes we just need to listen.

If something as simple as that can work to build stronger bonds and relationships with our children, why can’t it work with our friends, colleagues, and clients?

Are you hearing what they have to say, or listening to what they have to say?

Hearing or Listening?

Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear. Listening, however, is something you choose to do. Listening requires concentration so your brain has the ability to process the meaning of each word. Listening leads to learning.

Part of our job as PR professionals is to “fix” things, for instance, a client’s lack of brand recognition. We can more effectively serve our clients if we listen to their challenges and schedule some individual thinking time, to more clearly assess the situation, and provide thoughtful feedback.

I wanted to find out for myself, so I took an online test to assess my own listening skills. It did a pretty good job explaining where my weakness lie and where I should improve.

What kind of listener are you? How attentive are you to your clients needs?

Take this listening skills test to find out and learn ways to improve how you communicate.

About Mary Anne Keane


Mary Anne is a marketing communications professional with more than 20 years experience serving a diverse client base, from international not-for-profits to some of the country's largest corporations. She specializes in project management where she is skilled at assessing clients' needs, incorporating their direction, and ultimately producing results.

34 comments
JRHalloran
JRHalloran

Hi Mary Anne, 

Very good thoughts here! A lot of people always want to shove their two cents in, thinking it'll help absolve the problem by relating to them, but you're right -- it doesn't help at all. 

Many people interpret this as you not really listening. It becomes a form of discrediting what we heard from them. 

Definitely something to keep in mind. Thanks for sharing your insight! 

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T60Productions
T60Productions

Good stuff Mary Anne. As a video producer, listening is one of the most important things I need to do. It's amazing what you learn about people and businesses when you just sit back and listen to people talk. It's often the best way to find great stories.

--Tony Gnau

KevinVandever
KevinVandever

I've always felt like I was a good listener. I've been told I am. I scored well on the test you provided. I have room to improve, but it's easy to look good in this area as the bar is set pretty low by many. I once had a boss who almost always finished people's sentences for them. She was intelligent, but a little impatient. She didn't like to be corrected or contradicted in public so it became a game with those of us reporting to her to see how well we could react to where she took the conversation. Many times she'd finish our sentences and her endings would be way different than ours would have been, but instead of saying something like, "No, that's not where I was going" we'd shift the discussion to her direction. Not the best way to handle the situation, but it avoided the conflict and was kind of an inside joke among some of us. It even inspired me to write a tongue-in-cheek article on what I called Preemptive Listening (http://www.itjungle.com/tfh/tfh111405-story04.html). 


Thanks for the post. Great topic.


ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

I'm a big advocate of listening. I think it's because I'm an introvert and am more comfortable listening than asking. But what I find amazing is the things people will tell you if you actively listen, engage, and ask questions. Your story reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend last week. He said his relationship with his daughter has improved dramatically. When I asked why, he said he stopped trying to fix her or make her into something she's not. He just listens. He said she confides in him much more now than even when she was little. Pretty incredible thing!

annelizhannan
annelizhannan

This is a big topic in health care patient engagement as we transform to patient-centric care. One of the biggest hurdles is for brands, providers, physicians and other health care professionals is to shift their behavior, including these fundamental listening skills,  to be more honed on what the patient wants and needs instead of proscribing what they believe they need. It is an an entire culture change of behavior. I took the test and was dismayed that I will have to develop more patience to help the patients;) Thanks for including the test @makeaner


ClayMorgan
ClayMorgan

I do love this.


It sort of reminds me when I was on the board of directors at the Boys and Girls Club, we were told not to respond to a child who didn't look us in the eyes when speaking to us. To this day, I'm constantly telling the girls to look at the person they are talking to in the face. Tough habits to break there.

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susancellura
susancellura

This is a wonderful post!! Thank you for sharing your friend's teachings.

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

Great post! Thank you for linking to the test as well. And...perhaps this won't be a surprise, but...if you want to sell, learn to listen! I simply ask questions until my customers hand me the key to the sale. 

ElissaFreeman
ElissaFreeman

Oh this is SO TRUE! Once you start giving advice to your children - they shut down and won't confide in you again. It's hard to do…but you're right Mary Anne…the technique works wonders!

Ellie Pierce
Ellie Pierce

Ha! Some call it an "aha" moment, some call it a "DUH" moment!

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

My wife always says 'It doesn't matter how loud you yell...she is 2.5 and doesn't care what you have o say about what she is doing'.

And I say 'But it feels good at least'!


RobBiesenbach
RobBiesenbach

Oooh, I love a good quiz (ideally one that makes me feel good about myself!), so I'll check this out.

SO important. Most people don't really listen. I know a guy who used to sit down with a friend once a week. He would talk for 30 minutes, about whatever was on his mind and going on in his life, and his friend would listen. Just listen, with no interruptions or even affirming "uh-huhs." Then they'd switch roles. I'm not sure I could personally handle that, but it's an interesting challenge.

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

Such a valuable skill in life and in career -- and I know I have some work to do in this area.  

Eleanor Pierce
Eleanor Pierce

I recently read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People - which for some reason I'd dismissed for a long time (really, no idea why. Maybe the title just sounded kind of corny to me?). Once I did read it, I really enjoyed it, and I liked the lessons on listening in particular - Covey makes this exact point. Don't listen in order to talk, don't listen in order to apply our own biography to what someone is saying. Listen hard, and "seek first to understand." It's hugely effective in so many different parts of life.

belllindsay
belllindsay

TEENAGERS!! They are the WORST. I loved your points here about listening and "validation". Made me pause, in fact. I am a huge "Let me tell you a story, kiddo!" kind of mom, (not that my child even talks to me anymore), but that made me think about how I will react when and if he ever decides to talk to me again. And yes, the same carries beautifully over into the business world. :)

LauraPetrolino
LauraPetrolino

@ginidietrich  Oh and totally agree on the stories.  And on the other side of the coin, I'm an asker (but obviously that involves listening as well). So few people ever actually feel heard, when they realize you want to hear them they respond in amazing ways.

LauraPetrolino
LauraPetrolino

@ginidietrich  You know what's funny about that is that part of the reason I'm so close with my dad is he is such a good listener. I need to vocalize things to work them through in my own mind (hello extrovert). I don't necessarily want advice, or input, I just need to talk it through, and I can't do it on my own.  It's so hard to find people who are willing to just listen, without giving their two cents. He's always been that person for me. 

makeaner1
makeaner1

@annelizhannan @makeaner  I was surprised with my test results as well. But it's now at the top of my mind when communicating with others both personally and professionally. Good to hear there are organizations out there working to shift their behavior. It will pay off in the end.

belllindsay
belllindsay

@ClayMorgan  It drive me BONKERS when a person won't make eye contact with me. I've been known to ask people to take their sunglasses off, because I can't see their eyes. It's SO important!!

Eleanor Pierce
Eleanor Pierce

@RobBiesenbach  Oh, that's interesting. I'm not sure I could do it either - I'm kind of an interrupter (I think I'm just bantering, but that's not how everyone sees it), so my personal challenge is counting to 5 after my partner's done talking before I say anything. He usually starts again before I get to 5. 

biggreenpen
biggreenpen

@belllindsay from the flip side (and I did LOVE this post) ... all my formal training (suicide hotline, masters in counseling) is to listen (and especially not to throw solutions at a problem) ... and I have a teenager who is fond of saying STOP JUST LISTENING AND TELL ME SOMETHING DECISIVE #NoWinningThere :-)

Eleanor Pierce
Eleanor Pierce

@belllindsay  Ha! They totally are. I don't have any, but my nieces are both teenagers now, and WOW. I'm glad I'm their aunt, I'll say that -- I still retain a few microscopic cool points. 

Eleanor Pierce
Eleanor Pierce

@RobBiesenbach I identify with everything you said in this comment. How are people to know when it's time to move the conversation elsewhere if we don't interrupt them with a hiLARious joke?

RobBiesenbach
RobBiesenbach

@belllindsay @Eleanor Pierce I used to be HUGE interrupter. Drove an old girlfriend of mine CRAZY, but I would always say, "I'm just augmenting! I'm making your story better!"

Then I was talking to someone I didn't know really well and just doing my usual schtick, with my cute comic add-ons, asides and one-liners and he said, with a smile, "You interrupt a lot."

Now I really rein it in, and keep in mind that it's supposed to be conversation, not a comedy act.

The downside, of course, is that LOTS of people love talking about themselves and will do so for hours when given the chance. Especially actors.