Thursday, June 18, 2009

Listen while you tweet

Last week, Samantha Stone wrote "don't forget to take time out from tweeting to listen". I'd like to expand on this just a bit, because after some pondering, the realization has dawned that it is actually possible to listen quite actively even in an apparently one-way environment like Twitter, and in doing so to enrich the lives of others.

Let's face it, most of us who spend nearly 24/7 in front of a computer screen are not necessarily renowned or sought out in the realverse because of our scintillating social skills, but even in a limited-bandwidth format like Twitter, we can all go a long way to improve how we communicate with others. After all, it is called social media.

In real life, one of the most important skills we can learn is listening. Coaches, mediators and other communicators often refer to three levels of listening, sometimes called internal, focused and global listening. In Level I, you may hear what someone is saying, but you're still tuned in to your own thought stream, while in Level II, you lean forward attentively and start to become aware of what the other person is thinking. In Level III, you are fully absorbed in the other person's story, like a good book or movie, to the exclusion of your own senses – you actually feel what they are feeling. Try it and you'll be surprised by how hard it can be to tune yourself out and others in, but you'll also be amazed by how much more you are appreciated by those around you. These days, listening to someone even on Level II is a memorable gift you can give to those you still occasionally meet who have real lives, such as your family, friends and colleagues.

In your fascinating online life, if you can't see the other person's body language or even hear their voice, you're probably not about to get sucked into a dream vortex while staring at TweetDeck, but by your own tweets you can certainly show others how interested you are in what they're saying.

So let's apply some of the principles of listening to the way we tweet (with) others. By analogy, Level I tweets are self-absorbed updates like "I make $5k/month on Twitter and so can you:" that usually result in a quick unfollow. Level II tweets show at least a passing interest in starting a conversation, perhaps in the form of a question "Anybody else #tried those #new #marshmallow #bagels?". A Level III tweet, though, should warm your tweet-ee's heart and is almost guaranteed to evoke a response: "Wow, I can almost smell those blueberry pancakes! Do you serve them on every cruise?"

Now let's break down a good Level III tweet and see what's involved:
  1. A response to what the other person is tweeting
  2. An open, outwardly-directed question encouraging further dialog
  3. A tone of respect or appreciation
Now you might say that No. 3 is optional, but although I'll admit it's a bit of a lost art these days, it is possible to disagree with someone and still respect them. If you're not showing respect or appreciation for your, uh, tweet-ee as a person, chances are you're engaged in a diatribe and not a dialog, and that really is tweeting yourself poorly.

I'm as much a culprit here as the next hapless tweeb, so I'm writing this to myself too: when's the last time you wrote a tweet that shows you're listening?


Anonymous said...

Again, another excellent post Erich and one that has me staring at my shoes in shame because I can spend a lot of time in Levels 1 and 2 on Twitter.

It's something I actively try to avoid however but I think for most people the problem lies not just in the inability to listen, but in a lack of understanding of what the platform or medium itself is and how it can be used.

Anonymous said...

Great post, you are one of the few people I've seen who *gets* social media, and not just superficially.

Paul tells me you are a smart guy, I believe it :)

Erich Hegenberger said...

OK, let me give this a try:
I) Follow me to learn how you can profit from listening.
II) LOL! Me too. ;)
III) So what is social media, really, and how should we be using it? Maybe you could write a post on this?