#GovCamp 2011: How to Listen

What does it mean to be a good listener? And how does listening change when talk is, quite literally, SO cheap, and there are myriad different voices, and they seem to come from eighteen different directions, on thirty-five different platforms?

I struggle with listening well. Paying attention is hard enough; really listening takes a lot of commitment.

I always knew I had a short attention span (more so the older I get), but I honestly  didn’t know I wasn’t a good listener until my last relationship. I am a talker, and a compulsive over-sharer by nature, but oh! blogosphere, I loved this boy so much, I wanted to give him every microscopic detail of my world. This meant I didn’t listen as well as I should, and it meant I missed things I should have taken much more seriously.

Whoops, living, learning etc….but listening is not just about building trust and intimacy and a shared understanding of the world with a single person. In work, I am (you are, we are) looking for all of these same things. If you are in the private sector, your stakeholders will be heavily invested in your having a good relationship with clients, in accepting feedback, determining it’s relevancy, and reacting to it. If you’re a public servant, it is a duty you probably recognize as close-to-sacred. If you’re an elected official, you might find out how out of touch you are in a very harsh way (and, worse – especially if you do not accept defeat as graciously as Michael Ignatieff – it might be broadcast on national television).

GovCamp was interested in a lot of things. ‘How do we reach out and share what we’re doing?’ is the rallying cry. And this sharing is so, so important. I am sure whole dissertations have been written on the ways that governments disseminate information.

But sharing government is only a small part of interacting with the public. How to make decisions that truly reflect ‘public interest’? Listening means parsing what’s being said…and online that can be a lot of different things. If you only get feedback from, say,  those who tweet, or show up to council meetings, or already have a personal relationship with their MPPs, then you’re missing a lot.

And not just stuff that might come back to bite you in the derriere! Listening isn’t hearing. Listening is hearing, and then absorbing, and then thinking critically about whats being said, and then responding appropriately….maybe not right away, but in time. And the more listening gets done, the more thoughtful this response will be. That is the goal, after all: in all things, be thoughtful. It seems to me that everything must spring from this.

But this is not meant to be a blog-lecture on listening. I am not a kindergarten teacher, or a self-help guru, or your mom. I am asking: how do we harness all of the 2.0 technology that’s gotten so much buzz, that’s used to broadcast to citizens, and to connect citizens with each other, and really use it to LISTEN to citizens? How do we make sure the relationships we’re forming are mutually beneficial, and taking the big picture into consideration?

I have no clue, but I want to look around. This was the most important take-away for me from GovCamp 2011: It seems we barely know how to talk to each other. How are we going to listen?

GovCamp 2012 session, anyone?

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