Book review: You’re not listening by Kate Murphy

2 Minute Read

Don’t be put off by the self-help style title. This book about lack of listening and why it’s a problem has lots of tips and insights that’ll make marketers prick up their ears.

In a nutshell

Author Kate Murphy is a seasoned journalist. As her job is all about listening to people, she was moved to write a book about it and interview lots of other professional listeners, from hostage negotiators to comedians. Throw in some research from neuroscience and sociology and you get a really fascinating exploration of listening as a facet of human behaviour.

Key take outs

  1. Get over the ‘social listening’ hype
    “Using social media data to learn about human behavior is like learning about human behavior by watching people in a casino. They are both highly engineered environments that tell you something about human behavior, but it’s not typical human behavior.” Perhaps the most important part of this book, from a marketers’ perspective, is Chapter 8 – Listening in the age of big data. This is where Hughes explores the relative value of social media listening in understanding human wants, needs and actions. She’s effectively raising the alarm for organisations who rely too much on big data in making assumptions about their audience. It’s important to be looking at other insights and inputs to get a more realistic idea of what matters to your audience and drives their behaviour.
  2. Use silence to your advantage
    “People who are comfortable with silence elicit more information and don’t say too much out of discomfort. Resisting the urge to jump in makes it more likely you will leave conversations with additional insight and greater understanding.” The evidence shows that silence in face-to-face dialogue makes us squirm. But Hughes also shares important insights on how powerful a pause can be, particularly when you’re trying to ‘talk’ people into something. Maybe something to keep up your sleeve next time you’re pitching an idea or asking for budget?
  3. Get better at teamwork
    “Google found out that successful teams listen to one another. Members took turns, heard one another out, and paid attention to nonverbal cues to pick up on unspoken thoughts and feelings.” Time spent on collaboration at work has grown by 50% in the last 20 years. That means listening is even more important for a 21st century workforce. So, if you want to take your team to the next level in their performance, take a leaf out of Google’s book and treat them to an improvisational comedy workshop. Apparently, it worked wonders for listening skills for the likes of Cisco, Ford and Deloitte too.
  4. Boost your creative potential
    “Good listeners have negative capability. They are able to cope with contradictory ideas and gray areas. Negative capability is also at the root of creativity because it leads to new ways of thinking about things.” It’s perfectly natural to feel threatened by opposing views. In fact, this book explains why having your ideas challenged feels about as scary as being chased by a bear. But for creative professionals like marketers there’s also a huge benefit in welcoming the unknown. By arming yourself with logical reasons for listening to opposing views, you can stand to gain important insights and come up with better solutions.

As you’d expect from an accomplished journalist, Kate Hughes has written a very accessible guide to a complex topic. It’s packed with thought-provoking insights and makes for an easy and entertaining read for your weekend downtime.

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