Today, we have the skills and technologies to listen to the universe. But often we don't listen to the people around us.

Jim Macnamara, Organizational Listening

Listen. I'm gonna tell you a story.

Max Bygraves

I had the privilege to sit in and watch (and listen) to a presentation this past week. Can't say too much (Chatham House Rule (sic) and all that), but if I were to tell you that I hauled my ass out of bed at 4:30 am to listen live - even though I could have watched the recording later - maybe that will provide you with the import I laid on this talk.

That and the fact that I can share who presented ... Kristin Little who has The IEEE, 14 years at The World Bank and Fellow of The People Centered Internet - to name but three institutions on her resume. To summarize ... well worth 'tuning in'.

When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.

The point of this piece is not to take you through what was said idea by idea, but rather to provide some key points that you might find interesting. Each headline groups one or more takeaways that I thought were interesting.

A lot was talked about and covered and I am real happy to get into a dialogue about this and other threads around the challenge of listening. For now, though, this is it.

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

Most important .... in 40 minutes nobody said anything like ‘you were born with two ears and one mouth - use them in the same proportions' ... and for that, I was truly thankful. So, here we go.

Opening Comments

On average, around 80%, of organizational resources devoted to public communication is focused on speaking.

Some organizations even were up to 95% of their so called communication was outbound.

At the individual level, we've diminished our ability to have real listening and real conversations. We're now able to voice our thoughts and opinions easily, social media has allowed us a platform to do this.

The Promise of Listening

At the same time, we willingly or unwillingly customize our feeds. We end up hearing views that are just similar to our own. And we filter out the others, it feels like everyone is speaking and not enough listening is happening.

Listening is more important than ever.

To Listen is to Participate

Well, I guess that is exactly what I did. I said nothing. I asked nothing. I just listened. (I know - right? ME!)


Came up a few times during the talk, not just between different languages, such as English to German, Japanese to Russian etc but also cross-disciplinary translation. This is something I talk about a lot in my world. I am a 'cloud hopper', and I can do that, because my superpower is 'translation' (not language translation, which tends to be the assumption, but cross-disciplinary translation; sales to marketing, customer to vendor, American to English.

It's that last one that confuses people the most. Surely both countries speak the same language?

They do. They don’t. We hear similar words, so we assume we have understood. My view is that we spend less time listening - and thus understanding if we don’t have to concentrate too hard on what is being said. In other words, we assume. (How many times do we leave meetings and each one of us has 'understood' the conclusions, only to discover at the next meeting that this simply was not the case. Partly I think this is because we hear words we recognize and so assume we understand them.

Back to the talk. What really made me sit up was the idea of cross-species translation. The lady that spoke said she 'swims (and talks) with the dolphins' daily. We know that the animal kingdom communicates. Few of us really think about communication with them. In fact I would go as far to say that if we hear such talk - at best we 'raise our eyebrows'!

Stop The Post Mortems

The speaker spoke of post mortem analysis around projects and programs that she has been part of. An audience member suggested that rather than using post mortem, postpartum be considered as a more positive alternative. In their words ... "the line ahead as being a death experience as more like a birth experience."

Postpartum - opening up the possibility to the idea that lessons are being learned and that a new beginning would be possible the next time. Post mortem implying dead, over, passed and definitely not being revisited (my paraphrase).

The Delphi method

Uses 'iterative feedback' to reach consensus (one way to drive more listening in an OODA loop spirit.)

A way of driving towards consensus by everybody giving an opinion and then iterating on that opinion, until everybody agrees on a consensus. It's iterative and a useful technique.

(Delphi Method and OODA)

Superb Quote

It’s hard to transcend a combative question. But it's hard to resist a generous question. We all have it in us to formulate questions that invite honesty, dignity, and revelation.Krista Tippett

Thought(ful) Leadership

A twist of the expression 'thought leadership', and instead focus on thoughtful leadership.

Thought Leadership offers ideas so as to 'lead' in the marketplace of ideas.

Thoughtful leaders listen first, before they pronounce.

Not to mention that Mindy Gibbins-Klein has a book out on this very topic.

Two Stories About Computers In Meetings

Someone who went into a meeting and said, Why is everyone looking at their laptops for the entire meeting. There was nobody who looked at the speaker. Turned out that it was a special meeting for people who were on the autism spectrum. It was meant for them to be watching the speaker on their laptop and replying that way, because that's what was comfortable. That's how they could best function.

I gave a talk recently at a conference for blind people and was shocked to find out that when I was talking, everyone was looking at me. So I was very perplexed. Because I thought well, I would think they would be looking down at their screens. Well, of course, they can't see the screens, but they really loved engaging by looking up at the faces that they couldn't see. Because it made them feel part of the conversation.

Use of Zoom

It's distracting when, people don't seem to be looking at you in the eyes.

Side (authors) note - there's a fix
- place the camera further way from you
- place the camera focussed on you as close to the person on the screen as possible

Smaller groups tend to benefit more interaction.

Break out rooms are very helpful in bringing out people who might otherwise remain quiet.

Encouraging people to be on camera is good,

When you start a meeting, ask a question, an easy question that people can answer,

And so much more, that all felt very much motherhood and Apple pie. Maybe that it is because Zoom and all the other video conferencing tools have just been part of me for a long time. It was nearly twenty years ago that my startup was building 'across the firewall collaboration tools' that included embedding video conferencing software and chats right into the dynamically generated collaboration sites ... twenty years ago? Ok - eighteen!

Separately, I thought this was an interesting exchange. To me, it clearly demonstrates a before and after scenario. The questioner and presenter, both appeared to be in what I would call the old paradigm, the 'refiner' attempting to recalibrate the job of the presenter.

Question : How do you gently encourage people in Zoom not to multitask?

Answer : Beyond telling them that it's very important that we all focus beforehand, maybe also send an email in advance with expectations, and clearly explain what those are and why you would like them to not multitask. And recognizing that it happens, but saying that you want them not to for these reasons. And then thanking them for having not multitask.

Alternative Suggestion From The Audience :
I would like to suggest that multitasking is a feature of Zoom. It provides the environment for you to be able to be looking at multiple things, especially if the camera gets turned off. So the first notional idea is, is that you have to accept that. And then secondly, it's incumbent upon the person who's hosting the meeting, to have content that's worth paying attention to, that will arrest your attention.

That seems to be a perfect summary of why presentations fail in general, which I accept is a totally different topic - but one that I am very keen to drive home.

A lot more was said about Zoom, but it didn’t cover off the issues that I have with that world - which happens to be the topic of this week's newsletter. (I will add a link here when it goes live.)


So much was said. So much was covered. I just wish I could share the actual conversation. Bottom line. Fascinating and delighted that I did indeed haul my ass out of bed when I did.

This piece is knowingly not a flowing article, but I hope it peeked the interest and held (if not arrested) your attention. What are your thoughts?

Thinking Allowed

This is a People First post that was originally on the People First domain. It has been moved here as part of my domain consolidation program. It’s a steady and slow WIP as I check each entry, so do please bear with me.