Frustration on the 2 train (wishing they had listened)

Last week someone shared the phrase “the discipline of listening.”  I really like this.  It implies commitment, presence, humility, and hard work to become a good listener.  Sounds right to me.

Earlier today, I was packed into a sweaty 2/3 Express subway train in New York, creeping along, and wondering if I’d be late getting home.  The train conductor got on the PA system and crackled, “There is a track fire on Simpson Street in the Bronx.  There will be delays in express train service.”  That was it.

I imagine the conductor meant to be helpful, but I think he made things worse.  Why?  The problem is, he was describing the situation from his perspective (“let me explain to you why I’m driving this train so slowly”) without listening to what was on passengers’ minds (“will I get where I want to go on time?”)

(Now ask yourself: how many times has your communication, your story, your presentation, your message, been more about what’s going on with you – your organization, your product, your division – than about what matters to the person with whom you’re trying to communicate?)

Instead, the conductor could have said, “There is a track fire on Simpson Street in the Bronx.  This train is running slowly but we don’t plan to stop before 96th street.  We’re probably going to take twice as long to get from here to there than we normally do, but we’ll keep moving.  We apologize for the delay.  If I get more information, I’ll let you know.”


NOW he’s talking to me.  Now he’s saying, “I know a bunch of you have a train to catch, a dinner reservation, or plan to get home at a certain time.  This train running in slow-motion is bumming you out, especially since you’re crammed in like sardines.  Let me tell you what’s going on, when you can expect to get where you’re going, and when you’ll get more information.”

I’m increasingly appreciating how important it is to LISTEN to people and to acknowledge them – even when they don’t verbalize what they really want.  People are desperate to be heard, and have been taught over time that you will care more about what you care about than what they care about.

The catch?  You really, truly have to give a damn about what someone else (your customer, your donor, your partner) thinks. Otherwise, no dice.

So here’s your big opportunity: shock them by listening and by acknowledging the validity of what they say.  Better yet, be forthright (yet polite) about where you might not be able to do what they’re asking.

More often than not, they’ll care more about the fact that you’ve heard them than they will about you doing what they’ve said.

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