Life is a painting, and you are the artist. You have on your palette all the colors in the spectrum – the same ones available to Michaelangelo and DaVinci. – Paul J. Meyer
What do we do when we listen to someone?
There’s a process of communication going on, where we first acquire the information, then code it, store it, recall it and finally decode it.
Now, it’s easy to understand that this takes place if you think of it purely in terms of recording and playback.
For example, if you record someone’s words using a digital voice recorder then the words they say – the sounds they make – are captured by the microphone, encoded in bits and bytes and stored in memory.
When you press the play button the bits and bytes are recalled from storage and decoded – and then used to drive a speaker to make those sounds again.
What you get is a relatively perfect replay.
But that’s not really listening, that’s a time shift or a replay of the original information.
So what are you doing when you really listen to someone?
Talking IS thinking
Do we have perfect thoughts in our heads or do we need to talk things through to get our heads straight?
There’s a line of argument that says that talking is the thing that really differentiates humans from other creatures – the fact that we use language as a way to help us think better about more complex things.
Think about almost every conversation you’ve had.
Isn’t it a process of discovery – don’t you find yourself discovering what you think as you say it?
How often do you go into a meeting and have perfectly formed thoughts that are simply put out there for others to marvel at?
Instead, it’s a process of give and take – you say something, someone responds to that, you respond in turn as that comment sparks a new idea or train of thought.
So, when someone talks to you what they’re doing is building a view of the world, and that’s the thing that you’re capturing, using whatever system of note taking that works for you.
Reconstructing a point of view
When you’ve listened and asked questions and clarified things you’re going to have a picture of what’s going on.
It could be a metaphorical picture, a collection of thoughts that you now think that you feel makes sense.
Or it could be a literal one, something that you’ve written or drawn that you can talk through with someone.
The thing to realize is that what you’re doing is reconstructing a point of view.
Someone has told you something and, unlike a voice recorder, you’re not just playing it back word for word.
Instead, you’re re-presenting what you’ve heard, re-constructing it in a way that makes sense to you.
It’s like being a artist who sees a beautiful scene – the sun setting over the mountains, the dying rays lighting up the water and a last flock of ducks flying towards the horizon – and then tries to capture it.
You could photograph it and get an exact image which is framed and misses everything outside the frame.
You could use words and capture the essence of what is going on.
You could draw it yourself and pick out the elements that you remember, the ones that captured your attention.
The point is that what you do comes down to you – your own approach and preferences determine how you see and listen to what is in front of you and how you reconstruct that image so you can make sense of it.
And your approach will be, it should be, unique to you – you need to develop a way of playing things back that works for you in the situations you face professionally and personally.
No two artists do the same thing in the same way.
You might copy someone else’s approach when you’re first learning but if you want to get good you’ll have to experiment, develop your own approach and style over time.
And that means what you reconstruct from what you hear has something of you in it as well – it’s not a perfect replica.
It’s a constructed world.
Agreement, accommodation and compromise
Now, when someone’s talked things through with you and you’ve listened and reconstructed what they’ve said, what happens next?
For example, you’ve had a sales meeting, you’ve listened to the customer and asked questions, you’ve clarified and represented what they’ve told you – now what?
Well, if you’ve done this right what’s going to happen is that you understand their point of view and what they need.
Now that’s different from what they want – people often talk about what they want but don’t realize what they need is actually something else.
For example, you might have someone come in and talk about wanting a website – they need a redesign and upgrade of their existing one.
That’s what they say they want – but what do they actually need?
I had an example of this recently where a friend asked for some help in sorting out a website.
When I actually talked through things it turned out that what was needed was very different from what was asked for – instead of creating a new version of the site, as others had recommended, what was really needed was maintenance, making the existing site more user friendly and putting what was important in places where it could be easily found.
The project was really about information architecture rather than graphic design – but that’s an easy thing to miss.
People think that slapping a fresh coat of paint makes anything look better but if the underlying structure is rotting away you really aren’t making a difference.
In my case the approach I take is one that has been described in other posts here – in particular rich picture building.
When you are able to share a common view on a situation then what comes next is a question of agreement, accommodation and compromise.
If we don’t share that view then it comes down to persuasion and pressure – traditional sales tactics.
But if I understand how you see the world and I try to contribute to your point of view with what I know – and you see that and we both see what needs to be done then we have a way to work together.
That’s the kind of working relationship that I aim for, something that works for both of us and helps us create something of value.
But often we aren’t all there is, there are more people involved who need to be taken through the story – but it’s a different kind of story.
When you’re first exploring a situation with someone else you’re traveling the path together, discovering what’s in front of you.
For example, if you have a meeting with a manager at a company, you’re both going to go through this process of discovery from which a picture will emerge.
Now, both of you are on the same page but to get the project away the manager has to convince other people at their company.
And that needs a different approach, one we’ll talk about in the next post.