Hearing What You Want to Hear

Listening – really hearing what is being said – is both an art and a science.

Listening requires lots of practice.

Many things can interfere with listening to what’s really being said. The same is true of what we see (my blog on The Problem with Dots explains such interference).

At a recent online webinar for a major association, I presented my revamped successful presentation about targeting and hitting the right customer, COVID-19 Edition. I revamped all my content because of COVID and the outline I provided seemed appropriate for what we’re all going through.  There were close to 200 people attending because the topic and the association is a good promoter of webinars.

The information covered was well received. Comments during the session, according to the moderator and my staff member who was in the audience, were extremely positive.

I make it a practice to open the session for questions throughout the event, not wait until the end. This practice builds rapport and actually helps with the communication, which becomes a dialogue, not a monologue. Dialogue is especially helpful in developing the skill of listening.

This was proven once again during this presentation because the moderator would stop me often with a question, which I answered and had others participate as well in the chat box with responses. The webinar went one hour and fifteen minutes — overtime because the interest was there.

Afterward, I was pleased, exhausted, and felt, “job well done.”

Squeaky Wheel

As usual, I phoned the moderator the following day to get a personal take on the event.

She told me it was terrific, but she did receive one email complaint from the 200 that were in the audience.

I’ve been presenting for many years both live and online. I’ve learned you always have a negative comment or two. It’s inevitable.

This complainer said that I was encouraging people not to wear a mask. The complainer found that to be offensive.

Mask On, Mask Off

I had opened up my presentation with a mask on, then ripped it off with the comment, “I don’t need this thing for this virtual webinar” and smiled at the audience, thanking them for being there. The presentation was on finding and targeting prospects and customers in this disruptive environment.

During the session, I discussed my blog A Plea to Ban Masks from Business Meetings. You can Google the “A Plea to Ban Masks from Business Meetings” and see I have achieved the coveted Google Box on page one with that essay, including my photo. That’s not an easy task.

During the presentation,  one attendee commented that when making physical sales calls on clients, a mask is worn. I told the audience how I was online with another design association meeting and heard a similar story. “Another designer said that they show up with their mask, ask their client if they want them to wear it and let the client decide,” I added.

In no instance did I encourage people not to wear a mask.

In fact, I stated in the webinar: “I wear a mask to the grocery store.” (I do so because the store wouldn’t let me in to buy groceries without it).

Fortunately, the webinar was recorded.

Unfortunately, as I subsequently found out, there were “technical difficulties” with the recording. However, I nevertheless asked the moderator during my initial call, “Did you hear me encourage people not to wear a mask?”

The moderator said, “Of course not. I’m just telling you what the email I received said she heard.”

I know people hear what they want to hear.

That’s the nature of communication.

But, if you are going to be a good communicator, the essential skill is LISTENING and hearing not what you want to hear, but what is being said.

It takes lots of practice. That’s one of the reason you should record things. Take notes. And then clarify what you think you heard.

We color things we hear with our beliefs, our fears, and our understanding. It rarely occurs to us that we could be mistaken. That’s why one of the clarifications in listening is to repeat what you’ve heard back to the person saying it.

Communicating 101

In Cool Hand Luke, a famous movie with Paul Newman who plays a chain-gang member, the warden of the institution says after hitting Luke and knocking him down, “What we got here is failure to communicate.” Of course, the warden is trying to get Luke to “obey.” Luke listened, but didn’t obey.

My wife says sometimes, “You’re not listening to me.” What she means is, “You’re not obeying me.”

Obedience and Listening often get confused.

You can listen and not obey, but you can never obey unless you have listened and understood.

That’s what listening is: having the open mind, hearing what’s being said, and then making the judgment as to what you heard.

But to do that, you have to have listened and heard what was really being said – not what you think was said.

When listening fails, misunderstandings almost always occur.

Like in my webinar. One of the emails I subsequently received afterward when people found out the recording wasn’t available said this: “I watched your presentation last week and I was thrilled thinking we would receive the recording so I could take better notes but apparently there was a little snafu and we will not receive it. I was wondering if you could send me a PDF copy of your slides, I would be really appreciative. I truly enjoyed your presentation. Thank you so much and I am looking forward to hearing from you.”

This person heard the same content the complainer heard. See what I mean about listening?

The pdf file went out the same day. And to the many others who emailed me after finding out the video wasn’t available.

I was at a meeting once pre-COVID with executives when the presenter, John Asher, asked: “Can you be a 100% listener?” Everyone except me said no. Asher, who I met afterward and formed a relationship, looked around the room and asked, “Why is Jim right?”

The discussion ensued and Asher told them that you not only can be a 100% listener (meaning you hear exactly what is being said); you have to be a 100% listener if you are going to be in sales.

You see, Asher has a successful company where he teaches people to be top performing sales people. What is the skill you need most in sales? Listening.

When I give live presentations (or gave them pre-COVID), I’d inevitably have someone in the audience like this complainer. Sometimes I would even have someone walk out of a presentation, in which case I say, “Go take care of business. That’s more important than what I’m saying.”

But other times, when they don’t walk out (and you can always tell from body language and attention span when you are reaching or not reaching people), some come up afterward and we have a conversation about what they thought I said.

We listened to each other and clarified what they thought they heard, and what I actually said.

We communicated.

And isn’t that what the human condition is really all about?

What do you think? I’m all ears.

p.s. I’ll be giving this webinar in March through our own platform if you are interested.

For more insights follow [email protected]

2 thoughts on “Hearing What You Want to Hear

  1. One of the related skills that makes listening effective is the ability to set aside one’s own biases and pre-conceived notions. Only by doing this can one make oneself truly receptive to what the other person is saying. How else can you appreciate someone else’s perspective than by getting outside your own head and putting yourself in their place? Unfortunately, too many people have decided to become ‘professional complainers’, members of the perpetually aggrieved class. They never truly listen, therefore they never truly learn. And that’s truly a shame.

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