• Bob Ewing

On Listening


Let’s step back for a moment and ask a big picture question:

What is the single most important principle in all of communications?

And how can we easily test it out today to experience its surprising and powerful results? And then apply it with precision in our interactions with donors? I’ll lay out a quick and simple challenge for you to do just that.

But first, let me tell you about a boy from Ghana named Ben.

Ben lived under a Marxist regime where his father was imprisoned for being an entrepreneur. Ben was bullied often for being shy and reserved. Even adults and teachers joined in the harassment. The bullying escalated to the point Ben was assaulted at school.

When asked how he built his confidence, Ben told this story:

I came to the United States for college. Of course, I never spoke in class. One day a professor wrote on my paper, “you have a lot of good things to say, say them in class.” No one encouraged me like that before. It sparked a conversation. He told me I was one of his most promising students. I confided in him about about my insecurity with speaking. He listened patiently and made me feel empowered. He encouraged me to let my voice be heard. That conversation changed my life.

Today Ben is a key spokesperson for his organization. He’s also one of my top students. He travels the country giving presentations and recently won a national speaking competition.

Dale Carnegie, the most prolific communications coach in American history, said that there is one All-Important Law of Human Conduct: Always make the other person feel important.

That’s precisely what Ben’s teacher did during that life-changing moment.

So what’s the single most important principle in all of communications? Stephen Covey, author of the global bestseller 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, gave this answer: “If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Always make the other person feel important. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. These are excellent answers. Here’s mine: Give Your Full Attention.

That’s it.

There are four primary methods of communication: writing, reading, speaking, and listening. All are important, and the most important for relationship building is listening. Yet, which do we focus on the least?

It takes a lifetime to hone our writing skills, and even then we’ll never be Virginia Woolf. Building our speaking and reading skills also requires serious time and effort.

But listening? You can become an expert listener this month. Think of the impact that will have on your ability to build your brand and empower your donors!

With that in mind, I have a challenge for you:

This Week’s Challenge:

Give Your Full Attention in One Conversation.

That’s it! One conversation. Just listen.

Watch out for these attention destroyers:

  • Glowing rectangles and other simple distractions

  • Judgments, advice, thoughts, and feelings arising in your consciousness

  • The desire to interrupt to elevate your status

Instead, focus fully on the other person. No glowing rectangles. No judgments. No interruptions. Give your full attention. This will make the other person feel important, feel understood, and feel connected to you.

When you do speak, keep the focus on the other person:

  • Ask follow up questions

  • Restate their ideas and feelings in your own words

  • Be warm, engaging, and interested

They’ll likely feel as if they’ve fully exhaled for the first time in awhile. Chances are they’ll express their gratitude and turn the spotlight on you, asking you a question. At that point, you can share your ideas.

You’ve succeeded when the other person invites you to share your ideas. Or simply says thank you.

Don’t step into the spotlight until you’ve been invited! (Leonard Read, a master at donor relations, loved to say, you wait for the call!)

As Carnegie knew: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

The more you build your listening skills, the more people will open up and ask for your thoughts. When that happens, you’ll want to make sure you are ready to effectively deliver your message.

Which is precisely our topic for next week.

Until then, happy listening!


Bob Ewing




PS: You can try this challenge on literally anyone. Mark Goulston, the psychiatrist famous for training FBI hostage negotiators, explains: The good people in your life need and deserve reassurance that they’re valued--and the annoying people in your life may not deserve it, but they need it even more.