Listen to understand

You often don’t listen to understand: you listen to answer. Is there anything you can do about it?

The more time I work in the online industry, to more I realise that a positive, vibrant, productive environment online must be a close reproduction of what the offline world is.

When I browse I am not a different person than when I am physically shopping downtown, or having a beer with my buddies, or talking about my problems with my family. Of course not: I am not a browser, nor am I a customer. I am an individual.

Better said: each of us is just themselves, as opposed to the concept of people as an abstract entity with which I interact; we interact as individuals. I reckon that I can be identified for marketing purposes as part of a group, but this is partial. I am part of a group from an external perspective: in my subjective version of the world, the only one that exists for me, I am unique. This is also true when, indeed, I behave following the herd for whatever reason.

So all of the talk that we do in marketing, about understanding the audience, being user-first, being relatable, dialogue, blahblah should (and do, partially) start from exactly there: building a world that is naturally a replica, with its own perks and flaws, of the net of information and selves that we are immersed in in real life.

I tend to see a reflection of what I study re: behaviour (in general, i.e. online and offline) in all the things that I do for work, online. In this case, the mantra from marketing gurus is ‘listen to your audience’. Brands should use social media to build up a dialogue with their audience, as opposed to a monologue in other (more traditional) media.

This is precisely what I do with my friends right? I listen to them, trying to understand. If I want to be a good friend, I listen to their reasons, and accept them. We argue from two positions that we are both reciprocally considering valid.

But how often am I hearing someone making a point, and all I can think about is ‘when will they shut up, so that I can talk about MY perspective??’. Sounds familiar? Don’t worry, this is part of our nature. Again, my vision of the world is all the world that exists; WYSIATI, What You See Is All There Is.

‘When will you SHUT UP, so as to let ME illuminate YOU with my wisdom?’. Well this is kind of strong, but you get the point. Is there anything I can do to improve? Partly, yes. It’ll always be with us I think, and we should also be accepting of our flaws as part of our nature. But yes, improving is always possible!

The reason why I am not listening to you is I am not talking to discuss, but I’m talking to sell. In this case, I want to sell an idea. It can be a service, a product, anything really: and this is why this is relevant for marketing, too (finally, the reader might say). I get it, I finally want to convince others to concur with me, agreeing with my political views as well as buying my product. But when I talk to them, I need to talk to understand what they want to say.

To get in touch with my counterpart I have to talk to them, not try to sell them stuff. If I’m not trying to sell (or ‘impose’) my idea, I will be more likely to be able to absorb what input I am receiving from the outside.