The power of feeling listened to in design

The DBA’s John Scarrott looks at how using others as a sounding board and being listened to in business can help you distill ideas and find answers to the difficult questions.


Last week I wrote an article called “Sometimes you can’t make it on your own”.

It was about a business that wanted to move from one place to a different place. It was about how they decided what to do and why they needed others to provide the stepping-stones for them to move forward.

This week I was thinking about the foundation of those stepping-stones: how they talked to each other, worked out how to move along and in what direction. The foundation in other words, being ‘conversation’.

With this in mind, I wanted to look at two fundamental aspects of conversations: questions and listening.

Questions and listening will work brilliantly for you if you are interested in making progress on something. And the ‘something’ might be “how do we rebrand our agency?” Or it might “How do I have a tricky conversation with a client?” Or it might be “How do we grow?” Or it might be “How do I look beyond the short term as a leader?” Or…or….or. Asking the right question is the starting point. Listening – really listening – is the more challenging part. Here’s something you can try yourself.

Step One: You formulate your question: Ask yourself: “What’s the issue I want to discuss?”

Step Two: Find someone to listen to you talk about it. Bear in mind the nature of your question when you choose your person.

Here’s what to ask of your chosen listener before you start:

“Ask me ‘What do you want to think about and what do you think about it?’  And then stay quiet. Listen only. Please don’t say anything. Just give me your full attention. Please don’t interrupt me.” (This will be tough but please bite your tongue). Don’t comment. You may well see a solution to my problem. You may have ideas. For the duration of our time talking, don’t tell me. And even if I pause for ages, don’t say anything. If I say “I don’t know where to go next”. Or “I’ve finished” ask me this question: “What else do you think about this subject?” And I may well start talking again. And if I stop again, ask me “What else do you think about this subject?” Keep doing this. I’ll know when I’m done. I’ll say ‘thank you, I’m finished’.

For the listener, it’ll look like you didn’t do anything. But in truth, you’ll have done everything!

When did you last feel truly listened to? What happened as a result?

*Taken from Nancy Kline’s More Time to Think.

John Scarrott is membership director of the Design Business Association. For more information on DBA membership go to Follow John on Twitter @DBAJohnScarrott.

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