How To Avoid Being Tone Deaf

05/03/2017 08:12 am ET Updated May 03, 2017

Tone Deaf. It’s a word that has crept back into our popular vernacular, although it certainly isn’t a brand new concept.

The term came back during the election cycle, when journalists would characterize the candidates, both candidates, as not listening to public sentiment. Or at least only listening to the sentiment that they wanted to hear.

At its core, being tone deaf is about listening…something that I would argue most of us don’t do very well. The way we’ve been using it lately, tone deaf means not listening completely enough. In the case of marketing a brand or running a business, it means not listening those most important to you and the success of your business. Like your customers. Or your employees. Or the strategic partners you rely on to move forward.

To be clear, listening isn’t just with your ears. It’s with all the senses, learning and interpreting what others are saying and doing to seek understanding.

Being tone dead isn’t just about not listening, it’s about being unaware. Most that are tone deaf actually firmly believe that they are listening. But they’re not. And even if they are, they’re missing the deeper clues that come from really paying attention.

We’ve seen it a lot lately not only in politicians, but also in brands. No judgment here, though, because we can all be accused of being tone deaf at one time or another. I know that I have. We can even be tone deaf at home. I know that I have.

But we don’t have to accept being tone deaf. We can research and get to know our key stakeholders in our business and get to know them well. That means going beyond just listening to what they say, but also monitoring what they do. How they spend their time. What matters most to them. What they comment and share on social medial. What keeps them up at night, as they say.

Here are a few thoughts on how we can all become less tone deaf.

Learn to Listen More Carefully. Most of us listen just on the cursory level. We literally subconsciously say “yeah yeah yeah” in our minds as those around us describe their feelings and explain what they are going through. As we scroll through social media feeds, we don’t really scroll but instead tend to scan. We look for the highlights and the stuff that captures our attention. And let’s admit it, we are often multi-tasking at the same time so we are truly only half paying attention. At best. We become tone deaf as a result.

Drop the Agenda. When we think we are paying attention to others and what’s around us, we generally have a goal in mind. We may not realize it, but we are trying to confirm what we already believe. So instead of listening carefully, we instead are filtering through an agenda for what we want to accomplish. There’s no way we can learn if we have a pre-conceived notion we are trying to uphold. Drop the agenda and you’ll open your learning.

Read the Signs. We need to get better at reading the subtle signs of what’s really going on in any given situation. People rarely actually say what they mean. And they often cover up what they really do. We need to learn to peel away the layers to reveal true understanding reality. Not just someone’s version of reality. Or worse yet, our version of reality. That’ll make you tone deaf right from the start.

Good marketers have learned to listen beyond their ears and beyond what’s on the surface. They have a deep understanding of what’s important to the people that are important to their business. And importantly, they never become tone deaf as a result.

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