Monday, October 11, 2010

Being Heard

One of the more broadly shared phenomena among humans is: not being heard. If you've ever said, "How many times to do I have to tell you..." or "I asked you to do thus and such, and instead..." or "He just doesn't get it...", then you've probably experienced not being heard.

Assuming that you actually have something say worth hearing, then there are a few things that you can do to transform not being heard into being heard. Here they are...

What's in It for Me?
The single greatest success factor in being heard is to understand the motivations of your audience. Unless you're talking to your mom, then you really want ask yourself the question, "What's in it for them?"

This question should shape every aspect of your presentation. You should lead with it. You should close with it. You should tie every talking point back to it.

Just think about the times that you've not been heard. Did you fully consider what was in it for your audience? Did you even think about? Did you not only not think about it, but make your points based upon what was in it for you?

Signal to Noise
In signal processing (audio, electrical, radio, light), there's a frequently used term called signal-to-noise ratio. It compares the amount of stuff that you want to hear or see with the amount of unwanted stuff that gets in the way.

If you speak with someone in a quiet room with very little in the way of visual distraction, then your signal-to-noise ratio is going to be pretty good. If you try to hold the same conversation in a loud bar with televisions broadcasting sports events and people interrupting, then your signal-to-noise ratio is going be pretty bad.

When communicating to be heard, it's not only useful to consider the environmental signal-to-noise factors, but also three others that may be less obvious: comfort, timing and focus. Assuming you've got a distraction free environment, it's quite useful to ensure that the people you're talking to are comfortable, e.g., are they thirsty, hungry, too warm, too cold, too tired? If your audience is not comfortable, then they are quite capable of generating their own noise to interfere with your signal.

They say that timing is everything, and I've got to tell you that when it comes to being heard, there's no substitute for good timing. So often when we want to communicate something "important" we let our sense of urgency drive timing. We miss queues that would tell us "not now" or "I'm only looking like I'm listening just to get you to stop talking" or "Can we pleeeease discuss this later." You want to time your presentation to the receptiveness of your audience.

Even with great timing, a comfortable audience and a distraction free environment, I've seen countless people blow it by throwing in gobs of superflous detail that leave the audience wondering: what's your point? Superflous detail is noise. The rule of thumb is, leave them wanting more. Get to the point with as little stage setting as possible. Your audience can solicit more information from you if it's desired.

One of the things I really love about the blog format is comments; they provide a way for me to see where I'm not communicating effectively or where I haven't thought things through very well. In particular, the semantic of a words can be context dependent. Just the other day, as I wrote about Calibrating Desire, I had a very clear context in my mind, but one that wasn't necessarily clear to others. As Joy commented, it became clear to me that we had at least three contexts for desire in play. Her feedback really helped me to become clearer and more specific.

Feedback is specially important when you drop superfluous information and get to the point. Sometimes what you consider to be superflous isn't.

People who are best at being heard often solicit feedback before they even begin, allowing the audience to shape the context of the presentation. This allows the speaker to only bring into play background information that the audience would find useful. Nothing loses an audience faster than explaining in great detail things that they already know, or jumping deep into a subject about which they have no clue. A simple opening question such as, "What do you know about thus and such?" can substantially improve your being-heard-ness.

Setting the Stage
Each of us has filters that we apply to others when listening to them. If someone complains frequently and loudly, you tend to calibrate down the level of importance of what they're saying. If someone often says things like, "You know, I'd never tell him this, but so-and-so..." you begin looking for whatever it is he might not be telling you. If someone only offers her real opinion after twenty questions, you tend to discount what she says or not ask her in the first place.

Being heard goes beyond the few minutes that you're actually presenting. Your audience and their openness to hearing you is shaped through every interaction.

Decide that You Will Be Heard
Being heard is often the subject of self-fulfilling prophecy. Oftentimes we're not heard because we decided we weren't going to be heard even before we started.

Even knowing this, I'll often say to myself, "They're just not going to get it."

And you know what: I'm right. Of course, once I decide this, I start speaking faster just to get done speaking. I get distracted by whatever it is I've planned to do next. I glide past important background information. I leave the room, mentally.

Deciding that someone wants to hear you and can hear you is critical.

Go Be Heard
Will doing the things I described above guarantee that you'll be heard? Who knows. However, assuming that you actually know what you're talking about and have something worth listening to, the odds are pretty good.

So, next time you really want to be heard:
  1. Prepare by knowing what you're talking about and being someone who people trust to say what they mean.
  2. Find a good environment, ensure that your audience is comfortable and that the timing works for them.
  3. Decide that they want to and can hear you.
  4. Ask yourself: what's in it for them?
  5. Ask some opening questions and solicit feedback
  6. Drop the extraneous detail, filling in only those gaps that your audience has identified, and get to the point.

Happy Monday!

1 comment:

  1. Sweet, it reminds me of the feedback that you regularly give me: that I skip parts of the important information. I have the tendency to believe people know more than they do (like, that you would know that I just jumped out of bed 40 minutes ago to jump into the car two minutes be able to now write this comment). So number six, filling in the gaps is for me...!!!!


Read, smile, think and post a message to let us know how this article inspired you...