Good Strategy Starts with Listening

In her recent blog for The Center for Effective Philanthropy, Crystal Hayling states that, “…good strategy starts with listening. And not just sporadic listening, but listening that is built into the process of our grantmaking.” She couldn’t be more right – not just for grantmaking but for the work that we are all doing to improve our communities.

Every time I start a new project, there is a significant amount of time I invest in understanding the environment, culture, and need of my client. It’s not unusual for a client to say, “We need an action plan that we can execute,” when in reality, they need help in redefining their long-term vision and soliciting their partners’ support. Or, they need something else entirely different from an action plan, but can’t articulate it because they’re too focused on the day-to-day programming. That is totally understandable, and we’re all guilty of the same thing. That’s why it’s generally helpful to get an outsider’s point of view.

But I would never be able to figure out what my clients really need if I didn’t listen carefully – very carefully. Sometimes their needs are buried in nuanced statements. Sometimes their partners make off-handed comments that make me realize that there are other factors at play of which my client is totally unaware. And so I keep asking questions, carefully probing for more information. And listening carefully.

And sometimes listening – really listening – is hard to do. In meetings, we are often thinking about the next thing we want to say. Or we’re writing down notes of what was just said and we miss the point of the current speaker. And, according to one source, 19% of people are daydreaming about TV during meetings at work. But if we all continue to try and improve on that listening skill, we can have a better understanding of other points of views, and of the real needs to be addressed. We could all learn how to better support each other’s work. And maybe we’ll even hear a real solution or two.

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