The next step on our road to becoming a UX Jedi Master, is listening. Not hearing, being engaged, paying attention, or concentrating. None of these things is listening.
So what is listening?
Listening is the process of hearing what someone else is saying without thinking about what you are going to say next. (Because, it’s all about you, right? ) When you listen, you no longer are crafting the perfect counter argument, witty rejoinder, internet factoid, or dredged up memory from your 6th grade math class. You are (wait for it…) listening. You are accepting the information that the other person gives you. That’s it.After they have completed talking, then, and only then, you can start thinking about what they meant, how to respond, whether or not you agree, and so on.
Sounds simple, right? WRONG! Real listening (sometimes called active listening) is one of the most difficult, trying, strenuous, and nerve racking things you can attempt. It is not easy or fun! BUT, it is bloody effective.
Why is listening important for a UX Jedi Master?
- Gathering an accurate view of information. Listening prevents you from applying filters prematurely to the information you are gathering. When you start to form an opinion or action list about information while it is still being conveyed, your brain starts to eliminate or filter out anything that doesn’t fit. As a result, you get an incomplete picture and end up missing things. When you do not listen, you are unable to see other people’s point of view accurately. And without an accurate view, you are unable to persuade or argue effectively.
- Making other people feel valued. Imagine, if you will, that you are telling someone a less-than-compelling story about the first time you got called on in class. The first person you tell the story to is smiling and looking at you, and nodding their head vigorously. As soon as you take a breath, they immediately start telling you an amusing anecdote about their own first pressure situation. You feel a bit put-off, but they weren’t being rude and they were paying attention, so you can’t really get upset. But you’re happy when the story is over and you can move on. A little while later, you tell your story to a second person. They put down their drink, look at you directly and nod slightly throughout your story at key points, never saying a word. When you are clearly finished, they do something odd – they pause as if they are thinking about everything you said. Then they tell you almost the exact same anecdote that the first person told. You find it much more interesting this time – somehow it seems more relevant and funnier. You feel like they are really interested in you. When people feel valued, they are more inclined to value you and your opinions or positions.
So how do you learn to listen?
- Feign ignorance. Or, more precisely, assume (inside your own head) you know nothing at all about what the person is telling you or about the person themselves.
Wipe the slate clean and pretend that this is the first time you have heard about whatever they are discussing. Forget about that incident at the company Christmas part with the Groucho Marx glasses and the beer bottle. If you can approach them with fresh eyes and ears, you will be able to listen. CAVEAT: Do not actually pretend you don’t know them. That will not only not help, but also be really really confusing for everyone.
- Pretend there will be a quiz at the end.
To keep yourself engaged and present, pretend there will be a quiz at the end during which you’ll need to sum up all the key points the person just gave you. Ask questions if something confuses you (you’d ask a teacher who was going to give you a quiz – feel free to ask your speaker too) and summarize their responses to make sure you go it right
- Practice, practice, practice!
While difficult, listening is a keystone in the UX Jedi’s arsenal, upon which many other more subtle techniques depend.
“Your eyes can deceive you; don’t trust them” Obi Wan Kenobi