The average person spends more time listening than any other communication activity: 45% - 55% of our waking time. And becoming a better listener creates, in turn, a receptive ear for our own sound waves.
Julia T. Wood, communication theorist and author/editor of 24 books, coaches better listening through mindfulness: paying close attention to a person’s verbal and visual cues, and effectively understanding where they’re “coming from.”
First, focus fully on the other person (employee, colleague, etc.). Second, respond with feedback, letting them know you understand what they’re saying and how they feel about it. This dynamic promotes more complete communication. When people are assured they’re being heard and understood, they are more receptive to listening to you.
What are the barriers to effective listening?
Some may be simply situational—information overload, noisy environments, or information that’s complex and difficult to follow. Others may be internal—we may be preoccupied with a concern, make instant assumptions based on prior knowledge, or we allow some words to trigger a strong emotional response.
How to avoid obstacles to listening.
People who study effective listening can learn how to avoid these obstacles. For a great TEDx talk by William Ury, co-founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation, listen to his stories of candid conversations with presidents and business leaders.
An essential take-away.
Whether it’s face-to-face, or online, these same principles apply. So in today’s crowded and competing chorus of voices, the important take-away is to identify when critical listening is valuable in order to gauge information and gain understanding, to build connections, and to, in turn, be heard yourself.
Being mindful of the situation helps you know when to turn up your listening skills.
Stories matter. That’s the conclusion reached by scientists, anthropologists, and communication scholars.
Two key discoveries.
Recent findings from an extensive new study of the Agta, a contemporary population of hunter-gatherers in the Philippines, revealed two key discoveries.
One, that storytelling helps humans learn about cooperative behaviors such as the values of gender equality, friendship, and social acceptance of difference. Communities with more storytellers cooperate more readily with each other and are more successful in their work.
Two--a second key discovery: the storytellers themselves, by enhancing social cooperation, receive increased support and are rewarded by others for their contributions to group success.
What makes a "good" story?
So, how can we tell better stories and be rewarded by our audiences? After an intensive study, in the mid-1980s Annenberg professor Walter Fisher developed a helpful and simple description of a “good story.”
Fisher proposed that all meaningful human communication takes place during storytelling – and these stories are more persuasive than arguments. But to be believable, the stories must “hang together” and “ring true.”
It hangs together & rings true.
When a story “hangs together,” it is constructed with the known elements of story: reliable characters, a setting, and a believable plot. This lets listeners relate it to comparable stories they already know to be true, and they find it dependable.
When a story “rings true,” it carries values that connect with readers’ own values, giving the story the power to influence their beliefs.
Check out City Girl Coffee Company for a contemporary example of good storytelling that hangs together and rings true with its intended audience. With bold pink graphics, it tells a story of sustainability and social responsibility for women coffee workers. Illustrated with visual evidence, it facilitates and encourages its targeted audience of women coffee drinkers to act on their values as conscious consumers.
Good PR writing starts with research and an understanding of how the process of communication works. Your research should make you a near expert about your topic, your reading audience, and your PR goal (Inform? Entertain? Influence attitudes? Encourage behavior?).
Have fresh information.
You must know enough about your audience that your words will be interesting, useful, helpful, and motivating. Even if you know a lot about your topic at the start, you still should find out ‘what’s new.’ With our 24/7 information cycle, some strategic searches will ensure you’ve found credible and insightful news and not just hobbyists' blogs.
Know your audience.
Understanding your readers allows you to write concisely and effectively. Who are you writing to and for what purpose? What do they know already and what do they need to know? What are your goals?
In most writing for PR, providing the 5W’s and H upfront – who, what, when, where, why, and how – gives readers enough critical information and encourages them to read on. The facts, themes, words you choose to use will help increase interest and engagement. That's called "framing" - how journalists and PR writers selectively use content that tells a story in a certain way, emotive, visually stimulating, etc. to appeal to readers and clearly make intentional points.