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Listening

April 21, 2009

Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami, was the keynote speaker at a Commercial Real Estate Women of Miami luncheon I attended today.  After a fantastic speech that she said was addressed primarily to the young ladies in attendance from North Miami Beach Senior High School, she opened the floor for questions.

There were, of course, the usual questions about her vision for the university, particularly in the current economy, but it was a query about her opinion on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media tools that got me thinking.

Much of her talk had focused on the importance of networking and building relationships for the long term, so the question made sense.  Her response, however, was unexpected.

“The thing I don’t like about those sites,” she said (I’m paraphrasing here), “Is that you don’t do a lot of listening.  There’s not much opportunity to look someone in the eye and hear what they have to say.”

I thought about it, sitting there with my plate of chicken and my iPhone, looking up at her every few seconds as I frenetically posted notes on what she was saying to Twitter.

In many ways, I decided, online tools like Twitter simply magnify our existing tendencies, speed them up, and, like HD television, expose them to unprecedented scrutiny.

If we – or our organizations – are by nature listeners, these tools offer us the ultimate in eavesdropping.  If we’re conversationalists, we can chat up strangers, friends and acquaintances more easily than ever before.  And if we’re pedantic, one-way communicators, we can now publish an unedited, unending stream of noise.

The power of social media tools is that they make it possible to listen to our employees and learn from them in new ways, but it is still up to us to decide to do so.  We can create communities and create content, but to really create engagement, we must put aside our corporate speak and listen.

And if you were wondering about Shalala’s secret for getting the chance to work with the president of the United States, here it is: “Figure out which one of your friends is going to be president in 30 years and make sure you stay in touch.”

Whether you use a pen, a telephone, a keyboard or a mobile phone, that’s excellent advice.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 21, 2009 11:31 pm

    Nice start to the blog! A recent podcast discussion I heard talked about this. Interesting notion: look at how many people a person or organization is following on Twitter versus how many followers: its a great indicator of proportion re: listening versus talking. For example: Starbucks is following almost as many people as they have followers, and they are VERY responsive.

    Great post!

    Jason

  2. Eric Wash. permalink
    April 22, 2009 1:57 am

    Great post! Congratulations on your launch.

    Eric

  3. Alison Klapper Leon permalink
    May 6, 2009 2:21 pm

    Congratulations Angie! Interesting topic.

    The challenge is 1) how to find the time to listen when everything is so sped up and 2( how to determine who to listen to, when there are so many people competing now to share their thoughts.

    Look forward to your future posts.

    Alison

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