The ability to listen: A must for social innovators

Social innovating remains a rather novel subject, defined as ‘the practice of using creativity to develop solutions which improve the well-being of people and society’ (Young Social Innovators). Despite being around for only a relatively short time, the discipline has achieved a resounding level of success of late. However, to innovate means being able to pick up on social clues, to be constantly on the lookout for issues in need of correction. As such, it involves direct interaction with people in order to tackle societal problems head-on. Being an active listener thus becomes a fundamental part of the job. Listening entails absorbing information to better comprehend the environment and provides you with a basis from which to begin operating. It enables social innovators to pick up feedback from those around them and to summarily adjust the ensuing working process accordingly.

Here are eight reasons why listening is a fundamental skill to master.

To listen is to be prepared

It is most important for the proper functioning of any organisation, not to mention its long-term survival: every individual in the organisational structure has to come together to create the basic links through which ideas are shared and take shape. Listening is thus as fundamental a part of the healthy life of a business as the ability to communicate effectively.

To listen is to empathise

Proper listening conveys positive signals to those who are speaking, as the listener will most certainly come to be held in higher regard as a caring, understanding and involved person and, most of all, as someone who is reliable. Conversely, the very act of listening is a two-way process: it greatly increases the listener’s ability to influence people, which is a major requisite for social innovators. Asking open-ended questions, or repeating the last few words of the person who is speaking, will enable you to keep the conversation flowing and strengthen the bond between yourself and your interlocutor.

Listening is power

Along with listening comes the ability to pose the right questions at the right time, thereby cementing the fact that the speaker is being actively heard, and paid attention to. It further serves to sway the conversation in a direction that may prove most useful for social innovators. By aiming for specific keywords, they may encounter new, previously untapped opportunities. The most effective way to induce these changes is by systematically introducing the listener’s perspective via first-person interjections. These could include ‘in your place, I would do…’, or ‘ If I were you…’.

Develop the radar

Active listeners will certainly not miss much, as they will be constantly ‘tuned in’ to whatever new development might arise. Doors to innovating and exciting ideas are continuously popping up, and awareness is the key to unlocking them.

Listening gives peace of mind

Listening remains the most effective way of channelling someone’s attention, all the while helping to develop the listener’s long-term memory. In sum, listening implies understanding, which in turn makes it easier to pick up and store information in the long run. By actively comprehending whatever information you are receiving from the speaker, you are helping to cover your back from any potential changes of heart they may have regarding a specific issue. In other words, if push comes to shove, you can hold them accountable for failing to keep their end of the bargain.

Loud speakers, smart listeners

Listening not only fosters one’s ability to empathise with others, it also conveys a pretty clear picture: that the listener is quick to absorb the knowledge being given to them, thereby portraying them as an intelligent and capable person. Add to that some timely remarks and you are bound to attain not only the speaker’s appreciation but most certainly their admiration as well.

Listening helps others improve themselves

Active listeners are often quick to assess and process others’ emotions, being able to effectively untangle them from isolated threads of conversation. This particular skill is indeed a hidden gold nugget as it benefits not only the listener, but actually gives something back to the speaker by helping them understand fundamental parts of themselves. Thus, it builds on the perceived empathy and intelligence previously stated and helps cement the listener as an authority whose wisdom is not to be disregarded.

It goes beyond verbal conversations

Conversations occur in far broader contexts than simply orally. The very principles that come into play during simple banter also apply equally to written conversations, such as in the form of e-mails or text messages. While it is certainly true that greater nuance is required, the subtext remains, as do the tools that an adept communicator can use to influence the conversation. With enough experience and training, such an individual will ‘listen’ not only through their ears but also by using each of their five senses. As such, body language, plus eye contact, or lack thereof, may prove as revealing as the words that are actually spoken.

In essence, there is no ‘social innovator’ without the ‘social’ component. And what better way to channel that component than to mind the thoughts and feelings of those who need to be listened to.

Erik Trefftz