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Listen to Learn

How this simple art can improve you, your agency, and the world.

We are social animals. By nature, we strive to engage with others. This is fundamentally how we find pleasure, grow, and evolve. 

We live in a world dominated by more. More content. More disagreement. More shouting. But what we really need is more listening. It’s a simple art that is more critical than ever.

Only through genuine engagement can we find common ground and advance an idea. But how do we get there? The purpose of this post is to lay the foundation for better engagement with each other. While this piece is specific to our world of marketing/branding, we believe the principles applied are universal. 

Let’s look at some constructive ways to become a better listener. 


Listen to learn. Check your agenda and ego.

This may seem obvious, but if we do a bit of introspection, how many conversations do we truly engage in to learn? If we finish a conversation and learn nothing, we weren’t really listening.

If you’re only engaged in a conversation to prove your point, how will you ever learn anything new? How will you grow?


Build others up.

Listening provides an opportunity to make others feel supported. Why is this important? The more supported one feels, the more one will contribute. The more voices that are heard, the more we grow as a collective. Diversity of thought leads to improved perspectives, better output, and deeper relationships. However, too often singular voices dominate a conversation. By building others up, we encourage them to participate. And when that happens, we all grow. 


Provide subtle cues. And more. 

Related to building others up, good listening is much more than being silent while the other person talks. Research shows that people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions and actively engage in a conversation. Think of your most enjoyable discussions. Were you a passive participant, or were you actively involved? Engage your partner in an active manner. Sitting and nodding can provide good, subtle cues. Taking it further, asking challenging questions tells the speaker they are not only heard but indicates a deeper level of engagement and can lead to further understanding from both parties. 

A well-timed “go on,” can help someone feel comfortable and get them to expand on an idea. A provocative follow-up question can lead to a whole new level of breakthrough and understanding. 

This is a great way to provide encouragement (without interrupting). But, this can be a challenge in a videoconference world where everyone is on mute, and going off mute indicates a request to speak. Strive for ways to break through this — it will be worth your while. 


Be mindful of your talk/listen-to ratio. 

Being more thoughtful about your ratio will keep you from dominating a conversation, and will assure that more voices are being heard. Be introspective when talking and mindful if you’re dominating a conversation.


Wait until someone is finished talking before you respond. 

By interrupting someone, we are essentially declaring to the world that “I am more important than you.” Is this a statement we wish to make? However, this is intrinsically tied to our theme and requires that folks are mindful of their own talk/listen-to ratio. If we always only wait until someone is finished (and that person never stops talking), we may never have a voice in the conversation.


Additional tips:

Clear away distractions.

Seek to understand substance — Ask questions. Restate. Clarify.

Active listening can’t be faked. If you think you’re fooling anyone, chances are you’re not. Keep your video on. Keep your mic off mute (if able).  

Give space for silence. 

We hope this piece has helped you rethink a fundamental aspect of your professional and community life. We’re confident that if you apply the principles discussed here, your relationships will benefit, your collective work will thrive, and society may even improve. 

Mike Rouech
VP Brand Strategy

As vice president of brand strategy at Phire Group, Mike leads the research and strategic planning process and the account team. He brings a multidisciplinary and multi-industry approach to each situation. Mike is a founding member of Phire Group, and his previous experience includes working with Bozell, which is part of the Interpublic Group in Boston, Massachusetts.