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Listening Strategically

Usually, we're most interested in communicating outwardly; getting our messages out to others. But finding ways to hear what's going on around us can be just as important.

Let's start by identifying three different types of listening we do. The first type - informal listening - comes naturally, as in listening to another person. I take in what you have to say, and how you say it.

A second type, competitive intelligence, is a systematic process for monitoring sources and gathering information. That information is aggregated, processed to bring out the important points, and distributed to others who can use it to make decisions.

In this article, we look at a third type, a less rigorous approach to competitive intelligence, one that falls somewhere between simple listening and formal competitive intelligence. Call it strategic listening, a relatively simple way to stay on top of issues that affect your organization.

Let's start with objectives, which we normally do when looking at something strategically. Ask two key questions, "Why are we doing this?" and "What will we do with the information we gather?"

The first question focuses our efforts by putting them into the context of our overall goals. The second question, "What will we do with the information we gather?" relates to more immediate issues. It helps us articulate how we will use the material, and that in turn, affects the way we see our objectives.

Next, we need a process for gathering, managing, and storing the information we gather. What sorts of sources? How will we get them? What will we do with the material? How will we store it?

Once we've listened and gathered our information, we need to manage it. All those mounds of paper and electronic files must be boiled down into chunks of information that others can use easily.

This part of the process might involve the selection of excerpts or it might involve writing summaries. It might require an argument or simply a statement of facts that allows others to draw their own conclusions.

The final step in the strategic listening chain is to provide feedback to those who provided raw information, and to get feedback from those who used the processed information (or intelligence) we provided.

Giving feedback to those who provided raw information could be considered a courtesy, and a way of encouraging them to keep supplying us. Gathering feedback from those who used the processed information will help us determine whether or not we met the objectives that got us started.

In summary, one important form of listening is strategic; that is, informally gathering and processing information that helps us stay on top of issues that affect our organizations. The four key steps in this process are: setting objectives, developing processes, managing the information, and gathering and getting feedback.

Robert F. Abbott writes and publishes Abbott's Communication Letter. Learn how you can use communication to help achieve your goals, by reading articles or subscribing to this ad-supported newsletter. An excellent resource for leaders and managers, at: http://www.communication-newsletter.com

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