Apple Award Winning Podcast
Jennifer Brandel began her career in journalism in the early 2000s, reporting for numerous outlets including The New York Times and Vice, picking up awards along the way. In 2011 she founded the groundbreaking audience first series, Curious City at WBEZ in Chicago. Her company, Hearken, was awarded a spot in Matter.vc’s accelerator and took home the prize for “Best Bootstrap Company” at SXSW 2016. Jennifer was awarded the 2016 Media Changemaker Prize from the Center for Collaborative Journalism and named one of 30 world-changing women in conscious business.
Andrew Haeg is a veteran journalist and entrepreneur, correspondent for The Economist, founder of the mobile engagement platform GroundSource and co-founder of the Public Insight Network at American Public Media. He has focussed his career on using technology to help newsrooms better listen to their audiences and communities. As a result of this, he aims to make their journalism more reflective of and responsive to the people they serve.
Andrew and Jennifer share their individual experiences as journalists who have come to learn the importance of deep listening. Andrew describes it as the difference between transactional listening and building connections. Rather than listening to take stories from sources, establishing real connections with people allows you to tell the stories of those who would otherwise be uninclined or unable to.
Jennifer speaks to her training which preferenced efficiency and distribution over actual journalism. She was instructed to write stories before going out into the field, then finding quotes to back it up – confirming what she already knew, not discovering new things. This provides minimal ability to tell stories accurately, in fact, Jennifer attributes this way of working to a broken state of journalism globally. Are the stories essentially false, if they’re confirming biases? Jennifer chose instead to take longer writing her stories, so she could listen deeper, even if it meant taking on other work to make ends meet.
It’s a harder way of working, Andrew describes, to listen properly. However, doing so creates richer stories, and connects communities of people to themselves and others, in a way that journalism based on transactional listening does not.
Tune in to Learn
- How hungry people are to talk with journalists when they listen deeply
- How to collect feedback beyond a simple survey
- How to listen to the full person
- How listening ensures relevancy
- How to cultivate a deeply engaged audience
- How listening can be healing
Deep Listening with Jennifer Brandel and Andrew Haeg
Deep Listening: Impact Beyond Words. Hi. I’m Oscar Trimboli and this is the Deep Listening Podcast Series, designed to move you from an unconscious listener to a deep and productive listener.
Did you know you spend 55% of your day listening, yet only 2% of us have had any listening training whatsoever? Frustration, misunderstanding, wasted time and opportunity, along with creating poor relationships are just some of the costs of not listening. Each episode of the series is designed to provide you with practical, actionable and impactful tips to move you through the five levels of listening. So I invite you to visit oscartrimboli.com/facebook to learn about the five levels of listening and how others are making an impact beyond words.
The newsrooms that deployed this listening-first model, the people who are interacting with it are two to five times more likely to become paying members.
When you’re in person, I think it makes such a huge difference to see how people are holding themselves when they’re pausing, when they’re looking uncomfortable or sounding uncomfortable. So the more information you get, I think the more you can listen to their full body and not just the content of what they’re saying, and then oftentimes the real story lies in things that they’re not saying.
You know, if you’re used to the transactional mode of listening, if someone tells you, or talks to you, about building connections versus gathering stories, it’s going to seem like a look of work. But longer term, it’s a lot more rewarding. It’s better for the community. You’re actually adding to their world, instead of taking from it, and I think it actually gives you a better story, it gives you a much better, much richer story anyway.
And then for the people that I was interviewing, I really felt like I was violating them in some way, in that I wasn’t there to listen to what they had to say. I was there to listen for things that I thought I already knew, and confirm them.
In this episode of Deep Listening: Impact Beyond Words, we turn the tables on some experienced journalists today. We listen to Andrew and Jennifer who discuss what listening means when it comes to journalism. Jennifer and Andrew explain the cost of not listening.
Listen now for the story where Jennifer almost feels ashamed that she was told by one of her editors to write a story and then go and find the quotes to match the story. Learn about the cost of not listening for the community, the reputation of the journalist and for the actual story.
Listen now for Andrew talking about the impact of transactional listening as he talks about the cost of that for both the journalist and the community. He explains how a great enterprise in Durham, North Carolina used the power of listening, not only to connect the journalist with the people in the community, but to connect the community with each other.
The underlying theme in this episode is about the power of the unsaid and how the unsaid can be discovered faster by meeting people face-to-face. Both Andrew and Jennifer talk about the importance of getting out and seeing people in their own environments and then you’re able to listen for the real story.
In speaking to others, I’ve been told the difference between a good journalist and a great journalist is really all about listening.
I would agree with that. I do think that listening is key to uncovering not just the story that you think you’re reporting, but learning about all the stories you didn’t even know you needed to report and the depths of information that you needed to report them as richly and honestly as you can.
I know I was kind of scandalised early on in my life when I was first becoming a reporter and learning how to do it. I had a mentor who is really wonderful, but she told me to essentially write the story before I went out in the world based on what I could figure out by searching online and then go out and find people to give me the quotes that I needed to really fill in the blanks, and get the story done as soon as possible. So that was not preferencing listening. That was preferencing efficiency and distribution and kind of a feeding a machine versus actually doing the job of journalism.
Ever since then, I’ve been thinking how do I promote the opposite in the world, which is not thinking about interactions with people as from what I need to extract and create and pump out into the world, but what are the relationship fundamentals that actually leave us both better off than when we started?
Jen, what do you think the cost of that pre-assembled approach was, both for yourself and for the people you’re writing stories about?
Oh, that’s a great question. I know for myself it just felt deeply wrong. It felt like it was counter to the point of trying to put out good information into the world. Then for the people that I was interviewing, I really felt like I was violating them in some way, in that I wasn’t there to listen to what they had to say. I was there to listen for things that I thought I already knew and confirm them.
So it really meant that I have less of an ability to be surprised and for my mind to be changed and for the story go in different directions. That means I can’t tell their story accurately, which means one more false narrative goes out into the world, which compounds and creates a distorted reality. So I would say it’s pretty serious on that level of just one interview. Then when you think about it, as being the backbone of the entire industry is, is really a lot of it is so built on production and distribution and efficiency then it’s really no wonder why we’re in the spot we are right now in journalism and just overall communication with community.
I would say that pretty soon when I learned that when I was just learning to become a journalist and this was what I was taught, I really thought to myself this doesn’t feel right and I wondered if there’s a way I could do it differently. I was a freelancer at that time and I thought to myself, ” What does my hourly rate come out to?” If I did it the efficient way, my hourly rate actually was okay. It wasn’t great. Definitely not something you can save on, but I could make it work. But if I really wanted to listen to people and have those better interactions, my hourly rate would plummet to the point where I couldn’t make a living.
I ended up taking on a couple other additional jobs and just taking longer to do stories so that I could do the kind of listening I felt was required to report honestly and to report authentically in a way that I felt it should be done. I don’t know stories from the outcome of the community’s point of view other than you do stories and people tell you that you got it wrong. That’s one way of showing that you weren’t totally listening as well as you could have. But that was, I guess, the part I could control was at least how much time I was putting into it.
Who are the journalist you admire as great role models of listening?
Andrew Haeg is definitely one and his work in GroundSource, which I know we’ll get to in a second. But I think he really does incredible work and he’s built a foundation of different models and ways of thinking really built on listening.
Jesse Hardman is an incredible listener as well. He’s collaborated with Andrew a number of times on doing listening posts, so working with communities to truly listen to them and to start reporting from a place of listening, rather than a place of an assignment.
Then there are a number of kind of unsung heroes out there who are doing incredible listening. The folks at City Bureau in Chicago are doing great work. Madeleine Bair at El Timpano in Oakland. There’s a lot of people working at the intersection of engagement in journalism that I think are fabulous listeners.
Thinking about Madeleine and Jess and Andrew, what are the characteristics they bring as listeners that we could all learn from?
I think they bring a level of holistic understanding about the way that not only people work as individuals, but ecosystems and community information systems work and they know that the point of what they’re doing is not to create stories. It’s to create connections and that that requires different approaches and mentalities and outputs and just mental models as well. So I think they’re there to look at journalism as a vehicle for change, rather than an end in and of itself.
And for you, Andrew, who are the journalist you admired?
Growing up, there was an American broadcaster who since passed. His name is Charles Osgood. He used to go to communities around the county as part of PBS This Morning. The level empathy he had, the level of openness to other people’s experiences and the patience he had. Yeah, also listening is about, let’s be honest, finding great stories, too. It’s not just about letting to people express themselves, but oftentimes the great stories emerge when you are quiet enough to listen to them.
But into your question about stories versus connections or creating connections, I think so much of what, building on what Jen said, so much of what we do in journalism is we parachute into communities in order to extract stories, like they’re the prize we pluck out of the community. I go to this neighbourhood and I want to go find a great quote or a great story. The attitude you bring to that community is all you’re doing is kind of trying to extract the great story is one of greed and one of transactional listening where you talk with the shop owner, like, “Hey, who do I talk to, to get this experience or that experience?” All of that and the kind of transactional listening I was describing, it means that you’re approaching people to take something from them and to create value around it that they won’t experience any benefit from.
Whereas building connections is all about understanding where you can help that community tell its own story and, therefore, help it build the capacity to understand itself. So when you go into community and you’re thinking in terms of inaction, they’re helping build capacity, you’re often making sure that you’re talking to enough people and reaching out to people who maybe aren’t as eager to tell their story, or able to tell their story, because your goal is one of getting coverage or, in a sense, a buy-in from the community.
That’s much harder work. It’s not necessarily work traditional does journalist. If you’re used to the transactional mode of listening, if someone tells you or talks to you about building connections versus gathering stories, it’s going to seem it’s like a lot of work. But longer term, it’s a lot more rewarding, it’s better for the community. You’re actually adding to their world, instead of taking from it and I think it actually gives you a better story. It gives you much better, much richer story anyways.
Andrew, Jen, have you got any stories that really bring that distinction between transactional listening and connection listening to life?
In Chicago, there’s a newsroom called W-B-E-Z, or W-B-E-Zed for international folks who don’t use the Z. They’re a public radio station so they do national public radio broadcasting local coverage. I started a series in 2012 called Curious City. What it was, was about listening to the public’s questions about Chicago and the region so that reporters could be in service to the community. So rather than the reporter saying, “We know what you need to know,” they started with a more humble posture of saying, “You know what you don’t know. Tell us what you what information you want to have created and we’ll make it for you because that’s our job.” There’s been really incredible stories that have resulted from this listening-first approach.
Recently, a woman in Chicago wanted to know if Chicago’s Arab and African American Muslim communities shared mosques with each other and so she asked the newsroom. They decided this was an interesting story through listening to the community, because the community voted on this versus a couple other stories, and they ended up doing it. How they did it was they brought together four different imams from different mosques around Chicago to have that conversation with each other. So the reporter really acted as a facilitator to let them speak and get to know each other and listen to each other.
At the end of that conversation that they recorded and produced a segment to air on the radio and to put on their website, the imam said, “You know, I feel like this is a great start to a conversation that we should be continuing with our communities so not just us, the leaders, but bringing it out to the world as well.” So a few weeks later, they reached out, these imams who’ve never really been in touch before, to WBEZ to say, “Could you facilitate a community conversation with the people who come to our mosques to really take what we’ve started and keep that conversation going?”
So I feel like by journalists being able to model what good and supportive listening can look like and that listening can look like making space to listen to others talk to each other versus you talking to them, that was, to me, a really wonderful example of listening not just to sources, but letting sources talk to and listen to each other and come to their own understanding and for them to be able to communicate new needs back to the newsroom that the newsroom then decided to fulfil.
In Durham, North Carolina with one of our clients … partners … a group called Education North Carolina, we conducted a pilot called The Pulse, which was designed to … Using text messaging to take the pulse of a representative sample of people in Durham, North Carolina to understand their information needs on a daily basis. At the end of that, we can be in the dinner inviting Pulse participants to join us at a restaurant and we had a conversation. What struck me there, this is an experience I’ve had many times, is how hungry people are for that kind of connection and how few opportunities they get to have a conversation outside of the boundaries of their relatively narrow social networks. Depending on what kind of networks they run in. And they, to a person, said, “Can we do this again? We want to stay in touch. How do we stay in touch with the group?” And these are people who’ve met … not 90 minutes prior to that.
I think those kinds of experiences, and that one in particular, have helped me evolve my thinking of what a journalist is and what a journalist does. From someone who gets quotes, tell stories, tells truth to power, speaks truth to power and makes elected officials uncomfortable … to more of a facilitator, a convenor, a connector, even a catalyst for a community to connect to itself in ways that it may not be able to. Less a storyteller, although that is strong, like an important function of journalist still, in my mind. It’s creating a stage where our community can connect to itself in a civil and empathetic way in a way that social media really doesn’t afford, nor do comments at the end of news stories.
What came up time and time again was the interest, and the willingness, of people in Durham to help people who were being dislocated or otherwise affected by the rapid growth and change. That’s something that wasn’t necessarily coming out in the news. Even the people who are benefiting from all these changes, restaurant owners or wealthier, younger professionals were sensitive to the fact that there are sometimes winners and losers when a community changes that file.
It was more a matter of how they framed their discussion around those topics than the choice of any one topic. I think if you were to just look at it, like I said, from a journalist standpoint, you might … look at the rise of housing prices and talk about the effects, people who are losing out, you might also do the story on how the government ought to provide some solution to the problem at some level. But you might not do the story on the underlying … desire of how a lot of people in Durham, to help those who are being dislocated and affected.
And I think it speaks to … I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is it’s gonna be entrenched, institutionalised in a lot of journals in that … they logic behind a lot of the journalism we do is if we just shine a light in enough places that there’s gonna be someone in the government or someone there to solve the problem at the end … Like when that story gets enough attention. What if the solutions are inherent, or resident, in our community and not necessarily … We don’t necessarily have to look to the government to solve our problems?
And that’s the kind of nuance and reframing you get if you really sit down and listen to people, and talk to people.
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Often times, if you’re not listening very closely, if you’re just taking … if you’re just doing the annual or bi-annual “Bisquick” survey, with 30 questions on Survey Monkey … Or you just flown on Delta Airlines, in the States, and you get the email with the followup saying, “Hey, how was our service?” And then there’s the 10 point promoter-score survey and there’s a whole methodology for how you process all that feedback. You wanna get a certain kind of feedback and it may help you improve your service, marginally, then you’re not gonna understand the context behind that feedback. In a lot of cases.
And you’re only gonna hear from people who are either very upset or very happy, for some reason. And you’re missing out on the silent majority of people who are experiencing your product, your service … whatever … who are having an experience and may not be agitated or happy enough to go and fill out the survey form. Or incentivized enough, and therefore you’re not doing the job of listening to the majority of the people who are using your product or service. And you don’t understand how it fits into their life, necessarily.
So I think there’s a very strong case being made that the organization’s companies that are the best at inviting continual feedback, and are continually listening, are gonna be the most adaptable, and the most responsive to the needs of their customers, or their community.
You talked about listening for both context and unsaid. As a journalist, how do you listen for what’s not being said?
Any form of communication that you are using with people is going to have some degree of limitation, except if you’re in-person with someone. And even that has its own dynamics. So, I think when you’re emailing with people, your most likely to get … mis-other information because you only have words, you don’t have tone of voice, you don’t have … context. People tend to be shorter in email than they would in a conversation. And then when you’re on the phone with someone, you don’t have facial expressions to see, you don’t have posture to observe and understanding. And so, when you’re in-person, I think it makes such a huge difference to see how people are holding themselves. When they’re pausing, when they’re looking uncomfortable, or sounding uncomfortable. So the most information you get, I think the more you can listen to their full body and not just the content of what they’re saying.
Oftentimes the real story lies in things that they’re not saying. Things that they’re expressing in other ways. And so, to me, being a journalist, the best part is when you can be out there in real life with people. Which isn’t the way you can always do it if you’re producing topic-based coverage, where it’s not geographically based, and you can’t be where other people are. Even doing video calls is so much more telling than just phone or email interviews. So, I think taking in the full person as much as you can, listening to the full person, is so helpful.
And ask them, “So how is what you’re doing now working out for you?” You know? I think we’ve actually reached this moment, which is incredible, and terrible in its own way, that everything people have been trying has not worked for some reason or another. Whether it was because of … the changes in technology and the business model and the climate of politics in various countries. Nothing else has been working, so why don’t we go back to basics. Which is, to me, we can … We need to define journalism in a lot of different ways. But to me, in a democracy, citizens are the most important actors. Journalists and News organisations should be dead focused on, is giving them the information they need to make decisions about their families, their lives, their communities, their government.
And you can’t do that if you don’t know the information you need, and if you’re assuming that you know what information you need. And, increasingly, as news rooms shrink and they have fewer people out there, in their organisation, to make those calls, the worst their inputs are getting in terms of what to cover. Because there are fewer perspectives around the table. So I think listening is actually a business imperative because, in some way, perhaps you make sure the content you are putting out there is as relevant as it possibly can be. Versus thinking of it as yet an additional thing to do. I think of listening as a way to do what you’re doing really better … than simply an add-on, I guess is what I’d say.
We’re starting to get the data back, which shows it, ’cause who doesn’t want data in the data journalism world? But we are seeing that when we listen to people they are more likely to become closer to you. Which sounds so dumb because it’s so logical. But we have to prove it with data. So the more you listen to people, the more relevant content you make. With the technology that my company helps newsrooms deploy, we also caught their email address, which means you can subscribe them, if they opt-in, to a newsletter. You can put them on the path to becoming a member or a subscriber, paying to your organisation if that’s the model that you use. So we’re finding that newsrooms that deploy this listening first model, the people they’re interacting with that are two to five times more likely to become paying members.
And then we’re also finding that the content that’s produced through this approach ends up performing a lot better on all the different platforms that it was put out on. So, that’s also good economic imperative for advertisers, in terms of, you can ask them for higher rates if your content is being viewed by more people that their ads are on. So there are economic imperatives there as well.
The value of a very large, thinly engaged audience is rapidly declining and the ability to advertise to that audience is … And make enough money to run your publication or your podcast or whatever, is quickly dissolving. So I think one of the main features of it is smaller, more deeply engaged audiences. And you could argue, ’cause this is a … not good or not bad for society, because sometimes the smaller, more engaged audience, they’re gonna be wealthier and more attractive to advertisers. What we’re doing is trying to listen to them or trying to connect with them. But if you can connect with communities and create a sense of rapport and loyalty and trust, such that when you put something out to the world, they’re gonna pay attention to it.
And when you hold an event, they’re gonna attend it. And when you seek their membership support, they’re gonna respond to it. The chances are that you can build a sustainable media organisation by easily connecting with far fewer people than you would need within an outdated scale model to reach, in order to make a content company of some sort. Make the economics of that work.
So I think that smaller, more deeply engaged communities built around a sense of world peace, a sense of two-way conversation, a sense of deeper connections … well that model is emerging as more and more of these organisations move to membership and subscription models. That’s the imperative there, is the deeper engaged, smaller audiences.
Jen has spent a lot of time talking about the impact of listening to individual journalists. You and Andrew and the industry have looked at it in a much more broader and systematic context, where you’ve put together some work with the foundation, a funding model, software, training … it’s a scale listening beyond the individual journalist.
We were looking to try and figure out what’s a way where we can help inspire newsrooms to do this work more quickly. And with more focus. And so, as much as Andrew and I were having success on doing this one by one, just trying to find types of journalists in the newsroom who were interested in this work, we knew that there would be more … more of an impetus to get started in this work if their leading funders of journalism got involved. And so, we invited and worked with great contingent of people who have been interested in the work that we were doing and wanted to help catalyse its take. It’s hold on the industry. And so, we worked with the News Integrity Initiative at the City University of New York, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, the Democracy Fund and the Knight Foundation.
To put together a fund to help really inspire newsrooms to make this a priority. So, as a software services company … we are beholden to trying to get organisations to listen to us. And that’s not easy when they’re the ones in the power position. They’re the ones dictating their budgets and their schedules and their time and when a foundation is involved, the power dynamics totally change. So, instead of us saying, “Hey newsroom, please do the stories you said you were going to,” the foundation can put a grant together that says, “You need to do these stories and we’re going to give you money to do them. And we’re going to expect that you follow the rules and report here.”
So, I feel it’s really changing the dynamics between all of us in a really positive way, so that news organisations don’t want to disappoint the funders. ‘Cause they would like to get funding from them for other things, and money is a huge concern for pretty much every news outlet I know. So, the fact that they can get paid to start experimenting with this work is a really good dynamic, and it means that, hopefully, they will be able to listen to us a little more quickly than they would have if it was just on our own.
And I think that’s really why the foundation … came together, and this was a very unique and, I would hesitate to say that I think it is an unprecedented collaboration. Certainly amongst these four funders. And I think they see this as a moment where big strokes are needed and their looking to do things that are catalytic. And by bringing us together, not only us, our two platforms and servicers, but also these four foundations. They are planting a flag saying that listening is the value in newsrooms that they will be supporting. And if you’re a newsroom … a non-profit newsroom or another newsroom that’s out there looking for foundation funding, you’re gonna pay attention to those signals. So I think there’s a lot of layers to it that could end up having impact, not the least of which is just being trained in all the tools, but also the signal of different, the broader industry.
And the specific, actual uses … use cases that grow out of actually using the services in their communities.
In creating an initiative across the community of listening and engagement from the foundations; the News Integrity Initiative, the Democracy Fund, the Lenfest Institute, the Knight Foundation. For each of you, what have you had to change, or learn, about how you listen in coalitions, rather than just in one-on-one dialogues?
How this whole thing has come together, it has been highly collaborative, where there hasn’t really necessarily been a lead anything. We’ve all figured out what is needed in the fund, who can provide things. We ask a lot of questions.
I feel like, whether it’s because of the elections or because of the broader disruption in the news industry, certainly there’s a critical mass of people who are willing to really listen to one another and collaborate at a very fundamental level.
Racing through my head is the question I should have asked either of you, that I haven’t … that you think would benefit the audience in terms of understanding how to move from unconscious … shallow listeners to deep and powerful listeners?
So, this might be a little bit far-field, but I’ll go there, is that there’s this incredible book I’m reading by this woman, Adrienne Maree Brown, and it’s called “Emergent Strategy.” And I find myself underlining, highlighting and writing in the margins on basically every page. So it’s one of those books. And she has this sentence that I’ll read to you now, which is that, “healing happens when a place of trauma or pain is given full attention. Really listened to.” I think about that in terms of, what if you could be a version of a doctor, without going to school and studying and doing all that work. What if you could be as powerful? And listening to others, and being fully present for them that they are able to heal some part of themselves. Or be seen, or feel validated. What if all of us could become healers just by the fact of the way that we listen to one another?
And I think about that in terms of newsrooms and journalism. Everyday, people are out there listening or living. If they could give a little bit differently, a little bit more intentionally or consciously and thought of it as a possibility of not just they’re getting information, but they’re actually providing a healing activity for a community, or for a person they were listening to.
And I don’t know if there’s a day that goes by where I don’t experience this at some level. I think there’s an inherent tension in doing the work of listening and even doling the company around it. In order to listen, at least in a lot of context, you need to have a question formulated and there are many context and places you don’t even know what the right question is. So during the process of coming up with a question that’s going to evoke the response you’re looking for, or evoke a response, or get people to start talking about something, in and of itself is sometimes the biggest challenge. The projects that I’ve seen that have been the most successful are the ones that come in with a sense of humility.
As a journalist, I’m … the professionals I’m drawn to are the ones who, even though they’ve been at it, whatever they could be … they could be veterans, they could have been at their particular profession 15, 20, 30 years, but they’re still bringing that very … interaction in the mind of a beginner, or one where they know that there’s … a nugget of truth or deeper sense of wisdom that can only be drawn out with the right mix of questions and listening. I think it was during the 20 … 12 or 2008, actually I think it started back in 2008, they did … it’s called “Off the Bus” which is a … during the presidential campaign, as the name would suggest, they did follow candidates around on their buses, they got off the bus and got onto communities and talked to people about the issues that matter to them.
And I think that plan have been received after the Listen America tour. And I know Lydia Polgreen, I don’t know her personally, but I know that she’s been very … I think she was made editor of HuffPost, she’s been very interested in … developing more … grassroots, listening initiatives. Not only to make the national HuffPost products better, but also to link up with local news and local journalism.
In speaking to organisations like HuffPost and BBC and ABC journalists, one of the messages I hear regularly is that good journalists listen for facts and great journalists explore what’s unsaid and try and understand the meaning.
A lot of my work with CrowdSource and Word of the Day for the past 15 years is … is building tools and approaches and frameworks to help journalists listen more effectively to communities. When I go to newsrooms or talk to journalists about doing this work, I honestly talk about the merits of not just listening for quotes, but trying to understand what people are attempting to express, that maybe don’t have the words to express it. Especially when it comes to … It’s not just the individual source relationship, I mean I think there’s … When you’re in an environment and you’re in face-to-face conversation, you can observe posture, you can observe non-verbals. To sense whether or not what they’re saying is something they actually think or believe, or if it’s a talking plant that’s been handed to them by someone else.
And then you can use active listening and questions to steer them out of their comfort zone and into places where they’re responding genuinely. A lot of what I do is trying to do that kind of work, but at scale. So you’re building engagement with a community around a topic or a subject or a show or something and you’re getting them to reflect back to you stories of perspective. And I think often times when we look at how audiences engage with journalism online, on social media or on comments at the end of stories, often times we take what they’re saying literally, sadness expresses as anger. So, people are sad about something that’s changing in the world, sad about how rapidly their communities … the complexion of the community is changing.
Sadness that their job or their profession is being outmoded by automation. Sadness about this, that or the other thing. When they go into an environment like comment section on social media, often times that sadness converts into anger. And if you’re just listening to the anger, you’re gonna think everyone’s walking around full of hate. And really what a lot of people are trying to do is … is make their voice heard. And they feel like the only way to do that is to be extreme in some way. And then I found that the journalist, and someone who works engaging audiences, that the moment you reach out to that person … and ask them some questions saying, “Appreciated your comments on that story, just wanted to hear more about why you feel that way.” They immediately soften their stance, and they say, “Oh I didn’t realise anyone was actually gonna read that thing. So cool that you reached out to me, and here’s what I actually feel.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had conversations like that. With people who would otherwise … you’d otherwise discount as being hacks or trolls or super angry about something. What is our community trying to tell us that their not able to say? They don’t have the words to say, they don’t have the concept to say? Our job, as journalists, is to listen beyond that and to listen into the space of where … You’re truly trying to understand the underlying sentiment or attitude toward something.
I wonder what you took away from the interview with Jennifer and Andrew today? I wonder what you’ll do differently as a result? What I’ll be doing differently is thinking about listening, not only to individuals, to teams and organisations, but with their listening initiative across industries and ecosystems. Connecting large philanthropic organisations, universities and journalistic initiatives to ensure that listening is embedded into what they do, is something that I can take into my work in consulting with my clients across all sorts of industries. I also took away how important it is to listen to what’s unsaid. While Andrew was talking about listening to what’s unsaid, he talked about the Listen to America tour. Which, in episode 29 Hillary Frye, we spent a lot of time understanding how the Huffington Post spent time across nearly 30 cities across the United States and over 1000 interviews.
To listen, face-to-face, to people, about what wasn’t being heard. And what was unsaid. How to help people find their own words, rather than trying filling in the gaps for them. Finishing of their sentences, offering them your words rather than their words. As Andrew said, people feel so much better heard when they express their own words, even if it takes a bit of awkward silence to get there. How comfortable are you with silence? How comfortable are you to have a nice, long pause during the dialogue? To help people fully explore what they’re thinking.
As I listened to Andrew and Jennifer, I couldn’t help but think about the 125-400 rule, the fact that you can speak at 125 words a minute, but you can listen at up to 400 words a minute. And exploring the unsaid and asking simple questions that aren’t about content, will help you discover more about what’s unsaid. And, more importantly, help the person who’s speaking fully explore their thinking so that they can get to their deeper truth.
A big thank you to the people who listen to me, to Johnny, to Nell and to June. The team behind the Deep Listening podcast. Thanks for listening to me. I think the words that struck me the most during the interview was when Andrew mentioned the term, ‘transactional listening.’ What he meant by that is the cost of just listening to get a result, rather than listening deeply to what the other person’s offering you. Not just in what they’re saying, but what they’re not saying. I’d love to hear from you, so we’re listening. Go and visit oscartrimboli.com/facebook where you’ll have the opportunity, not only to hear from me, but to hear from others who are trying to make progress on their journey to become deep listeners. Thanks for listening.
Deep listening. Impact beyond words.