I was interviewing Robert Scoble about his new book (co-authored with Shel Israel), naked conversations: how blogs are changing the way businesses talk with customers, and I asked him about listening. Because one of the authors’ Five Success Tips is: You get smarter by listening to what people tell you. It just so happens that they’re referring to companies listening to their customers, or not listening to them as the case may be, but I had somehow construed that they were talking about people learning to listen to other people. But how are companies comprised of lots of people going to learn to listen to individuals when those same individuals don’t know how to listen to each other.

And this put me in mind of another book I read recently, Patricia Ryan Madson’s improv wisdom: don’t prepare, just show up. I think this is a great book. She’s taken a lot of material and condensed it into thirteen maxims that are all dead on. I’m keeping this book out on my desk for daily reference. (Off the point, but one of the maxims is “say yes.” Try one day just saying yes to everything. And you quickly realize how often we’re saying “no.” By saying yes to whatever comes your way, you have got to seriously reconfigure your brain cells. In a good way.)

Regarding listening, Madson suggests that “Once a day devote your attention 100 percent to someone who is talking to you.” Once a day? Which means that at present we’re not ever completely listening to others. So start with once a day. Just listen. It’s not easy.

One of the other things that gets in the way of us listening, apparently, is our need to prepare what we’re going to say. Like those meetings where a bunch of people have been thrown together in a meeting and someone says, “Let’s all introduce ourselves.” But then you’re so intent on figuring out something fabulous to say about yourself that you never actually listen to what the others are saying. Madson says, just listen to them, you’ll figure out what to say, and what you say will be better for having listened. I’m going to try that the next time I’m sitting around a conference room table with a bunch of strangers.

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