Hear to be heard

Many of us in the PR trade tend to be talkers. But, often, genius lies first in silence.

In the 1992 cinematic classic White Men Can't Jump, loud-mouthed Sidney Dean (Wesley Snipes) offers the following commentary on fellow on-court hustler Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson):

“Look man, you can listen to Jimi [Hendrix], but you can't hear him. There's a difference, man. Just because you're listening to him doesn't mean you're hearing him.”

Who knew that within that excerpt was a lesson for communications professionals?

Many of us in the PR trade tend to be talkers. We lean towards the extraversion side on the Myers-Briggs continuum. Cultivators of the gift of gab. Smilers and dialers. Oratory maestros. But, often, genius lies first in silence. Listening is a start. Hearing is even better.

Best-selling author Stephen Covey, who penned The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, said it this way: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

If you fall into that category, consider zipping it up and taking it all in for a day – if only as an experimental exercise. You may be surprised at what you can learn by really listening to:

Your clients
So much of what we do for clients, and our perceived value, falls beyond what's captured in recap reports. It's about relationships, and those relationships, at least the successful ones, are predicated on trust. Trust is built in large part through listening and hearing the emotional track of the client. What does their tone convey? Does their word choice indicate how they're feeling? Hear. Validate. Playback . Be an active listener, and you'll be a better and more trusted counselor.  

Your colleagues
June's Inc. magazine explored the shifting traits of modern leaders, citing “feminine” qualities to be among the most essential. Atop the list was “empathy,” the notion of being sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others.  That starts with hearing. Hold your tongue in a brainstorm and let the usually quiet teammate take the stage. Keep your door open for development meetings, weekend catch-ups, and the occasional venting sessions. Hearing the unfiltered thoughts of your co-workers makes us better equipped to mentor, motivate, and inspire.

Your world
Great creators see inspiration in everything. Aside from reading and watching, they keep their ears open, as well. Whether it's at the company water cooler or the family dinner table, there are creative cues all around us. What's the conversation in the office kitchen? The buzz in the elevators? The local grocery checkout line? Keeping our eyes open is great, but let's not forget to do the same with our ears. What we hear can provide the spark to the idea that makes people move.

In an industry built on the written and spoken word, and one in which visual storytelling is becoming imperative, it still all starts with listening. Only then, can you start to hear the music.

Steve Bonsignore is SVP and deputy director of the New York consumer practice at Cohn & Wolfe.

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