Crowdsourcing – perhaps the best way to listen?

Listening is hard.  Listening is especially hard when you have lots of ideas yourself and a fast moving mind; it’s easy to step into another’s statement and run with your own, at the risk that the other person never gets to finish their thoughts.  Interruption happens continuously at parties and in meetings and conferences, and if you’re like me, you’re guilty of it on a daily basis.

While we frequently hear how important listening is and we all KNOW we should listen better, it’s still hard for us to be good listeners.  And that’s just on a one-to-one basis.  If you are an executive director of an association or non-profit, or head up an NGO, or are in a government role with the responsibility of shaping policy, or are in the administration of a university with thousands of students and faculty, or are on the management team of a corporation, you have a lot of people you could (and should) be listening to.

Listening is one of the best aspects of, and invaluable benefits of, crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing provides a fantastic way for organization leaders to “listen” to what their stakeholders might say to them, without the temptation to interrupt.  It also provides leaders a unique opportunity to ask important questions to many stakeholders at once, let them respond individually, and let everyone all “hear” the responses.  Perhaps most powerfully, crowdsourcing can allow leaders, and potentially all stakeholders, to “listen in” on many discussions between other stakeholders about these important topics.  What a great way for organizations to understand at a deeper level what is really on the minds of their fellow community members, and for members to identify and make connections with other members that they normally wouldn’t have made.

I love the following excerpt about “the art of conversation” from Martine’s Hand-book of Etiquette, and Guide to True Politeness  a book published in 1866, and of which many points made still ring true, like this one:

“The power of preserving silence is the very first requisite to all who wish to shine, or even please in discourse; and those who cannot preserve it, have really no business to speak. … The silence that, without any deferential air, listens with polite attention, is more flattering than compliments, and more frequently broken for the purpose of encouraging others to speak, than to display the listener’s own powers. This is the really eloquent silence. It requires great genius—more perhaps than speaking—and few are gifted with the talent…”

Perhaps the concept of “using crowdsourcing to listen” sounds paradoxical on the surface, but for organization leaders, it’s really one they should strongly consider.  Do you ever wonder how conversations might have gone differently, if you didn’t interrupt?

(By the way, you can download Martine’s book in different formats for free here)

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