One of the things I’m working on is learning how to listen better. What does that mean? Well, I’ve got it down to a list of habits I want to break and skills to develop.
Habits to break
- Doing that thing where you’re really just waiting for your turn to speak. This is where it starts. What does just listening to someone feel like?
- Interrupting, even if it’s because I’m so interested in what you’re saying, and have something to add that I feel sure you’ll be happy, relieved, excited to hear
- Taking it for granted that I actually know anything about your view of things, or what interests you and why, what worries you, excites you, or just plain turns you off. The odds are our relationship has gone deep or long enough for that. And, anyway, if I wasn’t such a good listener before, I am probably projecting my ideas all over you.
I know. This is gonna take some doing.
It came up first on a personal note, when I began noticing that I was having a hard time communicating at work, with family, and with friends. It didn’t feel like we were on the same page. Hardly ever. And when it did feel like it, I’d find out later that that page wasn’t what I thought it was. I used to think that I was having a hard time getting things done with a slew of external factors governing whether things were working, but lately, I’ve decided that it’s because I’m just not very good at listening. I’m habitually doing those things I listed above (worth re-reading) and not actually hearing people. And that throws off my expectations, and sets me up for misunderstandings, mis-alignments and generally walking into walls.
Then, as I turned to work on this idea of creating space for conversations we don’t usually get to have, I saw that while it seemed like I was in touch with what mattered to women, the only research I had done was via the questionnaires I formulated in the first phase of the project, and conversations I had with women here and there—both would be steeped in my biases as I hadn’t begun to think critically about my capacity to listen, much less to work on it.
Skills to learn
- Developing empathy—Cognitive empathy vs emotional empathy. With cognitive empathy (you don’t need to agree, but) you’re consciously cultivating understanding of other perspectives. It takes learning and practice to do this. Because of all the biases. Emotional empathy is where you support someone through what they’re feeling. In this, I’m focusing in on connecting through understanding vs through recognizing and accepting another’s emotional state. That’s emotional empathy and what we usually think (I think!) when we talk about empathy. This is about really seeing (hearing) each other as we are. Not easy through all the noise in my head.
- Listening sessions—Non-directed interviews, open-ended conversations. I’m shooting for a few conversations/week and kicking this off later this month. If you’d like to get in on that, let me know. You don’t have to have attended a vagina vérité exhibition to participate.
- Mental model diagramming—In product development (or service offering) terms, this is a way of deeply understanding your problem space by documenting what your people think, feel and care about. By your people, I mean the ones you want to serve and support with what you make or provide. It’s where you come to understand—independent of them becoming customers, what matters to your people? What are they trying to do that your offering helps them do? Not how do they use or feel about your product. How do they think; what do they feel, and what are the underlying principles guide them as they aim at an intent or purpose? One larger and more personal than what your product or service covers. The mental model diagram is a method for making a visual map of the content provided in listening sessions, and where we’ll be able to view the women’s bodylife landscape generated directly from your voices.
I’ve just started working on this, and in addition to being pretty excited about it for how it will no doubt change me personally, I just know this is the way forward for what vagina vérité can become.
We need access to each other’s experiences: women’s bodylife stories, information and services. It needs to be easy, safe and universally accessible. Don’t you think?