Interest through empathy: Why listening matters

Having a good idea is just the start of innovation. It’s hard to be successful without also garnering interest from your team and community. In this Mindshift article, author Annie Murphy Paul describes how powerful interest is, connecting us intellectually and emotionally with ideas we find valuable. We know this from personal experience – every day we see interest shape our own priorities and behavior.

But how do we communicate our ideas to others in ways that generate interest? By developing empathy through listening! Collaborators, evangelists and funders alike are drawn to projects that appeal to them. Listening authentically and effectively helps build empathy, so we can talk about our work in ways that resonate. It guides us toward more effective design.

Cultivating empathy expands our personal, social, and cultural understanding of the world around us, letting us synthesize our knowledge and experience with others to affect long-term change. Watch philosopher Roman Krznaric explain how empathy can create real impact:

Shifting focus from our own perspective to that of our stakeholders also makes it easier to remove our ego from the conversation, allowing us to innovate in ways that really make a difference.

How can we listen better?
We know how to listen – we do it every day. But to listen effectively we often have to get out of our own way. Here are a few proven listening techniques that are worth revisiting.

  • Reflect on and acknowledge personal prejudices that might impact how you value the contributions of different people. Try to identify your personal opinions and any preconceptions you might have about an individual, group or idea, and deprioritize them for the time being.
  • The concept of active listening originated in areas of conflict resolution. To practice active listening, pay close attention to the information being offered and repeat your understanding of what was said, with the same emotional tone. This technique provides clear and immediate evidence of a misunderstanding and can be repeated easily to reach clarification.
  • Deep listening is a technique used in observational research and requires understanding the context of the information and the perspective of the person offering it. Deep listeners listen respectfully; honoring roles, boundaries, and context in order to develop empathy.

With so much focus on the details, it’s easy to lose sight of the larger ecosystem that our ideas need to flourish. Remember that success is about more than your own interests; collaborators and the community need to find as much value in your ideas as you do. You can effectively reach them by listening carefully and demonstrating that you appreciate their perspective – empathy is key.

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