Wednesday, June 9

Listening: The Most Important Lesson In Communication


Yesterday, Nevada held its primary elections. If you were listening to pundits, it was a night filled with surprises. If you were listening to the public, most races played out exactly as expected. And despite a few upsets, some people still aren't listening.

Listening isn't only about politics. Listening is about business too.

There are dozens of studies and hundreds of surveys making the rounds right now. All of them are hoping to catch a snapshot of how consumers might behave. Most of them have useful data, but most people don't listen. They only "hear."

There are several developing stories that underscore the point. It's why Utterli died. It's why Digg is struggling (but probably not dead). It's why the BP oil spill response has eclipsed Hurricane Katrina as the worst response in American history. It's why not everyone is cheering Santa Clara, Calif., for banning Happy Meal toys. And, there are dozens of more examples.

Politicians are "hearing" constituents. Business executives are "monitoring" social media. But few are "listening."

Utterli heard Utterz turned some people off at a glance, but they didn't listen to how people came to love their enduring cow mascot. Digg heard that being allowed to share content among a Digg network fueled some spammers, but they didn't listen to understand that people love to share social media while tuning out spammers anyway. There are several other social networks in jeopardy too.

BP and the Obama administration hear that people don't think they did enough, but they are not listening closely enough to understand the public wants them to admit their mistakes and that they don't have anything under control. Santa Clara elected officials that heard parents wanted something done about childhood obesity, but they didn't listen to responsible parents who consider McDonald's and Happy Meal toys a once-every-few-months treat. They can make decisions about Happy Meal toys with their own pocketbooks.

Even researchers are becoming deaf nowadays. There is another portion of the Harris Interactive poll I mentioned yesterday that proves the point. Harris Interactive couldn't understand why 70 percent of Americans gave the Constitution high marks, but low marks to the government (43 percent) and political system (23 percent) it empowers. They heard, but didn't listen.

Most Americans think that the political system to driving government is operated well beyond the Constitution, which was originally written as the people's contract with its government. This also set the stage for a volatile election cycle because people don't believe politicians are meeting their commitment to protect the Constitution.

How a lack of listening undermined several campaigns in Nevada.

If you want to understand how this all played out in Nevada, never mind what the pundits say. Sue Lowden, who is a dynamic business woman I had the pleasure to do work with years ago, didn't lose the primary because of her chicken comment. The gaffe could have easily been corrected, but her campaign didn't know how (we did, ho hum).

But what really underscored the race was that she wasn't listening. Candidate Sharron Angle was listening. People are tired of hearing about what establishment representatives want to do for them. They want elected officials to represent them.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid isn't listening. Almost immediately after Angle won (he'll face her in the general election), Reid's campaign launched a release attempting to label her ideas as "wacky." Someone didn't think to tell his staff that the block who voted for her might be put off by it. At least she's representing Nevada, some might say.

The story played out the same in the gubernatorial race. Gov. Gibbons could have turned his time in office around, but he consistently didn't listen. It wasn't the economy that cost him his incumbency. It was how he handled the economic downturn. While he made some of the right decisions, he only "heard" people didn't want tax increases. That's true (they can't afford them). But what he didn't hear is that they wanted him to demonstrate leadership. By the time he did, it was too late.

In the one race I was engaged with, it was much the same. Tim Williams was an underfunded underdog. His opponent was "anointed." Some insiders were so convinced that he could not win that they advised him to directly attack his opponent. He refused. The public is tired of games. Williams listened.

Are you listening or are you hearing?

Whether it is a political campaign or consumer product, the public is much more sensitive to who is listening and who is not. Generally, you can tell the difference in whether they react to what they hear or respond because they are listening.

Case in point: the Obama administration thinks that they didn't communicate their response to the BP oil spill clearly enough. So, he reacts by defending what the government did do. He's not listening. People don't care about what they did do or whose "ass" he intends to kick. They want someone to clean up the spill. Use hair. Use hay. Use air filters. Just clean it up and stop making it worse.

Bookmark and Share
blog comments powered by Disqus
 

Blog Archive

Google+ Followers

by Rich Becker Copyright © 2010 Designed by Bie Blogger Template