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Blog Relationships: Are You Listening To Your Readers?

Blog Relationships: Are You Listening To Your Readers?

Do you have a friend or relative that does all the talking and none of the listening? What kind of a friend is that person? A good one?

A really good friend is one who talks and listens, eager to know your opinion, to let you have your say, and to hear your problems, too. It’s shared relationship when each gets their turn to talk and to listen. Besides building friendships, I’ve found the greatest lessons I’ve learned come from listening?

Are You Listening To Your Readers?

A blog is about your words being read or “heard” and then others responding. Blogging can feature a skill known as active listening, the process of listening and responding to another person to improve mutual understanding.

Many think of active listening as structured conversation, where one person talks and then the listener gives feedback or summarizes what is being said. Active listening means “actively” listening, not just role playing or responding on cue. It means to really hear what is being said, not just the words, but working through to the deeper meaning, by which you enrich the relationship between each other.

In the traditional school of active listening, the benefits of active listening include:

  • People choose to focus and concentrate on the speaker.
  • They avoid misunderstandings as people confirm what they hear.
  • Helping people to say more and open up more to the listener.

Here is what I believe active listening really does for you:

  • You learn to focus and concentrate
  • You learn to live in the moment – to be present
  • You can learn more about others, as well as learn more about yourself
  • You seek confirmation to clarify what you are learning from the other person
  • You learn to live and communicate at a deeper level
  • You learn to hear not just what is being said, but what is being felt
  • You learn to trust others and yourself

How hard is it for you to listen? Have you practiced listening lately? It’s a skill that doesn’t come naturally. It’s learned. For a week, try listening to someone without speaking. On your blog, allow comments to happen without responding. See what happens. Both experiences will be different.

Listening is hard work. It’s instinctive to respond. You want to jump in with your own stories, or to ask questions, others want interrupt and guide the conversation. You may find you have a hard time staying focused on the speaker, your brain off and running somewhere else. You might hate the quiet in a conversation and feel the need to fill it, whether you are contributing to the conversation or not. Or, you may listen for a moment and then anticipate and predict the end of the story, assuming where the story is going. Since we already know the end, why should we mentally hang around to hear it?

Listening actively means being in the moment, to focus and concentrate on what is being said, and to uncover the meaning behind the words and emotions driving the story. Prejudging a story before it is over is little different than prejudging the person before they even open their mouth.

When you assume you make an ass out of u and me.
Traditional English Saying

By not responding to comments on your blog, what happens? Do the comments just sit there? Or do other readers respond to the comments? Do they start a dialog between themselves? If the reader needed an answer to the question, did they return later with the answer which they figured out for themselves? Do they still thank you, even though you didn’t respond? Did more people comment in general? Or did people stop commenting because you weren’t around to respond to each and every comment? What happened?

As your listening training continues, examine how you listen to podcasts and read blogs. Do you pay complete attention all the way through, or fade out and sort files in your head or plan your next blog post? Are you really paying attention and “listening” to the thoughts being expressed?

You never know what insights you will learn or experience as the blogger moves through a story, a story which maybe different from your experiences and may challenge or change your attitude on the subject. As you listen with your ears and mind, be aware of the assumptions you make in order to get past yourself and your judgments to open yourself up to the other person and their stories and feelings.

Do you respond to every blog post you read and every podcast you hear? What makes you respond to these blog posts or blog comments? What motivates you to comment?

Are You Being Heard

Active Listening on your blog - graphic of earThe other side of listening is being heard. Do you feel like your words are being read on your blog? How do you know? Do you judge if people are reading by the blog traffic, feed stats, or comments? Are you really being heard?

Comments are a way of getting feedback, being told that our words are heard. Many bloggers fret over not getting enough comments to justify their blogging experience. They want more.

In research on how to elicit a response in a conversation, researchers found that not every comment needs a response. A good listener understands that. You don’t have to say something in response to everything ever said.

In another study, participants said that when they knew they wouldn’t be heard, they didn’t feel inclined to respond. Others wouldn’t participate until someone else went first, reluctant to be the first one out of the gate, or needing someone to start so they could say “me, too”, unable to come up with the words they really want to say.

These studies also defined the physical characteristics of a good listener. The listener leaned in, some moved even closer to hear what was being said. Others cocked their heads, didn’t fidget, and looked like they were concentrating and paying attention continuously. All agreed that eye-contact was important. A couple of speakers mentioned they had a hard time meeting the eyes of the listener because they felt inadequate or guilty about what they were talking about. If the speaker was unsure of their content, they also avoided direct eye contact.

How do you recreate these physical characteristics in a blog?

Reflective Listening

Learning how to listen and how to be heard is important, as is learning how to provide feedback to keep the conversation going and to take it to a deeper level. This is where the influence a blog has on the conversation can surpass the physical characteristics of a good listener. If you can convey your need to hear your reader, that their opinion matters and you rely upon it, they will respond and keep the conversation going.

The process of speaking with feedback in mind is called “reflective listening”. Here are some guidelines:

Appreciate their talents
Care about what is being said
Hear the story behind the words
Find the purpose of the story according to the speaker
Consider the person’s feelings and reasons
Go deeper
Expand the conversation and relationship
Ask leading questions like “tell me more about…” and “How do you feel about…”
Assume the outcome
Offer advice
Interrogate (question sharply or harshly)
Evaluate or judge the person or the situation
Minimize or trivialize the person’s feelings or concerns
Analyze the person or situation
Turn the conversation to yourself
Jump topics

It has been said that an idea is worth nothing unless it is communicated. Leaders are people who make ideas come alive through communication skills. All of these skills are not inherent or come in the chromosomes. They are learned, developed, and practiced over time.

As we focus more on the listener in active and reflective listening, inherently there arises a burden upon the speaker or blogger to make sure they are saying something interesting and worth hearing. Everyone needs to be heard, but it is also the responsibility of the speaker to provide meaningful information not just wasted breath.

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Consider the dos and don’ts associated with active and reflective listening and see if any of these apply to your blogging habits.

  • Do you tend to stay focused and on topic or does your conversation style jump around leaving incomplete thoughts and sentences dangling?
  • We tend to love the sound of our own voice, so are you talking just to make noise or do you have a point to your story?
  • Do you feel like you just “have” to share a story for the sake of talking or is the story really important enough to be heard?
  • What is the purpose and deeper meaning behind your story? What emotions are you expressing through your story?
  • Just because you had trouble catching the bus doesn’t mean we have to hear the whole story of how much trouble it was to catch the bus. Do you have to tell this story? Why?
  • Consider the importance of what you have to say to other people. Do they need to hear this? Is it appropriate for the time and place and the emotional state you both are in? Can it wait?
  • Is your mind racing ahead of your words so you can be ready to speak when there is a pause, not even listening to the responses? Conversation can be challenging when you are focused on what you are going to say rather than on what is being said.
  • Do you talk to make yourself feel good or look good? Do you talk the way you do to make yourself look more important to the listener? Do you tend to put others down when you talk? Do you tend to use a lot of “I” statements?
  • Do you play the game of one-upmanship? If someone tells a story, do you have to tell a better story? Does the competitive spirit goad you to tell an even bigger story, because whatever happened to you must be better or worse than what happened to them?

Consider the responsibilities you have as the speaker and the role you play within a conversation. Do you allow equal time for listening and speaking? As you talk, are you really listening? And consider if it is really more important for you to be heard than to hear others.

What Makes Good Conversationalists?

Think back to those few people who influenced you and had a great impact on your life. Think about the friends, family, mentors, teachers, the people who took time out from their life to make you feel important. How would you describe the communication between you?

Was it meaningful, empathetic, or inspirational? Did you feel like they were connecting to your soul or spirit with their words? Did it feel almost telepathic they way they knew exactly what you needed to hear at that moment? In a close relationship, words flow almost without effort, and sometimes without even the words. There is a deeper understanding between you two.

Where does this connection come from? Is it because of them or ourselves? Is it because we are exceptional at expressing ourselves in words and body language that we are understood so sincerely? Or is it because we are masters at listening, being open to the moment and experience shared with another? Naturally both qualities are important, but don’t forget that God gave you two ears and one mouth and you should use them in that proportion.

The chances are that those who influenced us the most were powerful listeners, hearing the deeper meaning behind what we said and when they spoke, we listened.

Whether instinctively or through the development of their listening skills, they have developed the skill of empathy. A researcher from Maine, Dr. Marisue Pickering, identified four characteristics of empathetic listeners.

  1. Desire to be other-directed, rather than to project one’s own feelings and ideas onto the other. The listener puts the other person first without judgment or assumptions about the story or the story-teller.
  2. Desire to be non-defensive, rather than to protect the self. When the self is being protected, it is difficult to focus on another person. When you let down your barriers, the walls of self protection, you open yourself up to really hearing what the other person is saying and you can invite lessons into your life based upon their experiences.
  3. Desire to imagine the roles, perspectives, or experiences of the other, rather than assuming they are the same as one’s own. [his is living vicariously through the other person, learning about their experiences and lessons without grouping them with your own. This is another opportunity to learn through others.
  4. Desire to listen as a receiver, not as a critic, and desire to understand the other person rather than to achieve either agreement from or change that person. Imagine yourself as a great sponge-like microphone through which another projects her story. It is not your job to agree or disagree, or to fix the person or the problem. There is a big difference between acceptance and agreement.

How are you using your listening skills in your life? Are you using them in your blogging? Are you using techniques that lift your life to a higher level, improving the quality of your life and others? Or are you using them as self-defense mechanisms, avoiding deep relationships and intimacy? Don’t forget, you don’t do anything without a reason. If you don’t stop to look at your reasons, you are missing some valuable lessons.

SOBCon07 Register Now for the eventI hope this series on blog relationship building helps you explore how important the relationships you form with your audience and your blog are. I’m learning a lot about how the importance of blog relationships as I write these in preparation for the Successful and Outstanding Blogger Conference in Chicago, May 11-12, 2007. Most bloggers think that building a relationship begins with getting them in the door. I say that the relationship building begins when you learn to listen and respond to your readers, giving them what they want to they want to come back for a visit, often.

Are you listening?

Article Series on Blog Relationships

Lorelle VanFossen blogs about blogging and WordPress on .

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