This was written as part of the rough draft for Deploy Empathy, a practical guide to interviewing customers.
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On this week’s episode of Software Social
, Colleen and I debriefed the customer interview we did last week. It was recorded right after we got off the phone with the interviewee, and I found it fascinating to listen to her real-time reactions.
Listening to an interview is just so different than reading about them.
But there’s something I want to dive into a little deeper here specifically related to things a few of you have brought up.
I’ve had people say to me that they would love to be able to do interviews themselves, but feel like their personality isn’t suited to it. That they get excited about what people are saying and want to relate. Or that they often interrupt out of excitement rather than an intent to be rude, and doubt whether they could tamp that down.
In the debrief episode, I say “If someone who is as ADD and bubbly as me can do interviews, anyone can.”
I didn’t say that to be glib.
Even if you don’t have ADD, it’s still normal to still struggle with active listening.
Maybe when someone shares a problem, you jump to proposing a solution, rather than validating their feelings and helping them work through it, rubber duck style
Active listening is a skill that isn’t taught or rewarded in school. In many ways, it’s actively discouraged.
I want to speak specifically to the men reading this for a moment.
A male reader emailed me the other day and mentioned as an aside something that’s stuck in my head since:
Male socialization is basically a decades-long training program in how not to be an empathetic listener.
Think about that for a moment.
Do you feel like you’ve been socialized to listen to people, or to show your own ideas? To show your value and leadership potential by speaking over others and being the loudest voice in the room, or by elevating others?
It’s probably a good moment to bring the conversation back to everyone.
I just finished Steve Portigal’s Interviewing Users as part of background reading for this book. And this in particular jumped out at me:
We work in a society that judges us primary by our own contributions, rather than the way we allow others to make theirs.
I felt this, hard.
It reminded me of the classic book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
, a book that was written for managers and organizational development folks to recommend to 20-somethings that basically says: “hey, all of those skills that were encouraged in school? Correcting others, showing how much better you were than other students, defending your ideas and proving they were better? Yeah, all of that’s actually counter-productive in the business world, sorry, please stop.”
I know this because I was sat down and told to read that book.
I might be a woman, but for a variety of reasons, I was not socialized with kind of collaborative, deferential, listening-focused conversation style that women are expected to exhibit.
My ADD combined with a kind of hard-charging, straightforward conversation style meant that I’ve had to learn active listening the hard way.
I had to actively sit down and learn how to listen to people.
To not interrupt them. To leave pauses. To submerge myself in what they’re saying.
I’ve had to learn how to show empathy, to myself and others.
To validate how they feel. To build rapport through listening, rather than sharing experiences.
I’ve had to learn how to speak empathetically, rather than showing sympathy through suggestions.
To let them find the answers, rather than sharing my own ideas.
I tell you all of this to say: if I can do this, anyone can.
You can do this.