Listening is the last thing on anyone’s mind when the subject is communication.

And it’s understandable. From the instant an infant realizes what it takes to get attention, our practical view of communication is shaped by a repeated focus on doing whatever it takes to deliver a message.

Experiences reenforce the idea that charisma, wordsmithing and creative presentation are at the heart of connecting  And so we go about our business . . . mistaking message delivery for communication.

Listening is about keeping quiet — SIlence. Golden, maybe. But certainly not getting any point across. Quick…say something!

Sure…in our gut we know there’s value in listening. We likely even believe we should do more of it. But when it comes right down to it we don’t know how.

And just in case we need to say it, the fact that we’re not talking is no guarantee there’s any listening going on.

A Rethink

Here’s the proposition: communication begins only when-and-if we learn to listen.

It is a counter-intuitive discipline that works exactly opposite of our practice. As opposed to beginning worried about what we should say, listening actually informs and gives shape to messaging that connects.

But All Listening Is Not Created Equal

This is part of the problem, isn’t it? Query a search engine for “types of listening” and you’ll find plenty of content on Discriminating, Passive and a handful of other ways to say we listen differently, depending on the situation.

It is almost impossible to find a market segment that is not flooded with messages, each making as big a splash as possible in pursuit of mind share. There is no way any given audience can hear every message directed its way.

The listening that changes the equation is proactive. It is listening by design, with purpose, with ears wide open.

And though the irony of talking about it this much is not lost, this is a challenge for all of us who have spent years focused on messaging, loving great copy, and spellbound by production possibilities.

Intentional Listening — a proactive, agenda-less process and art designed to learn — is the key to the identification of common ground, shared experiences, and the creation of relationships that endure.

If this isn’t where our communication efforts and campaigns begin — if listening isn’t the first thing we think of when we want to connect with an audience — we should not be surprised when efforts fall far short of the results we seek.