When I tell my clients that the main purpose of social media is to listen, and even to care deeply about their friends and followers, I am sometimes met with blank stares. What does compassionate listening mean? Why take the time to do it? The discipline evolved from a citizen diplomacy project in the former Soviet Union to the Middle East after the fall of communism.
"Compassionate Listening is a process rather than a product. It is healing precisely because it does not pretend to “have the answers.” Rather, it engages the participants in processes that have each side seeing the humanity of the other, even when they disagree." (Quote From the Compassionate Listening website)
Caring about what others have to say is at the heart of listening. There's no way around it. If someone is inconvenienced, angry, left out or left hanging, do you even want to know? Do you feel their pain? There is ancedotal evidence that leaving people out leaves a deep psychological scar.
When someone contacts you via social media channels and you don't respond, what kind of message does that send? To me, it's like someone turning their back to you. Are you inadvertently turning your back to people by not listening?
Monitoring vs. Listening
I think people get tripped up on the difference between "monitoring" and "listening." Monitoring entails keeping a constant vigil on certain keywords and noting trends, spotting disasters before they explode, and noting any major changes in friends or followers.
Monitoring is something that every individual and business on the planet should be doing. Simple monitoring can be done with free tools such as Google Alerts and Search Twitter. More extensive monitoring can be purchased through services like Radian6.
The word "listening" evokes a deeper connection, and I firmly believe that it only can be done by a real human, listening in real time to the conversation.
How Does One Become a Compassionate Listener?
Here are some practical tips on becoming a compassionate listener. It's not for the faint of heart, but also not impossible to learn. I've noticed that this communication style comes easier for women. But the men who flourish in the social media sphere all have these skills and traits.
- Suspend judgement, at least temporarily. Social media studies have found that people are actually pretty true to their real selves on social media. It's likely that what you see is what you get.
- Be nice. Make an effort to be friendly.
- Ask detailed questions. Making the other person feel recognized and valued is paramount.
- Give online credit and share other people's stuff more than you talk about yourself.
- Follow up. Was someone talking about their sick mom last week? Check in to make sure she's ok.
- The best conversations happen in real time. Take time to interact with people while they are online.
- After a disagreement, acknowledge the awkwardness and then move on, or apologize if you know you offended the other person.
- Don't ignore. Ignoring someone is the ultimate shaming.
As you can tell, compassionate listening is a lot more work than monitoring, but the payback is worth it. You get so much more in return. Are you a compassionate listener? Can you try to be one? I would love to hear your stories about how applying the principles of compassionate listening made you a better person.