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Thursday, July 28, 2016

 10:17 AM 

Wendy Riemann column: Advantageous Advocacy: Listen up!

It has been said that a person has two ears and one mouth, and should use them in proportion. True in relationships. True at work. True in advocacy.

On occasion, a lobbyist would enter my office and be distracted by her phone throughout the meeting.

My impression was not, “WOW, this woman is an amazing multi-tasker.” I did not find her to be extremely important because of her “busy-ness.” I also did not reason my comments were not welcomed, since she requested the meeting. I DID, however, think that while she may hold good intentions, if she is not fully listening, she is not worth much of my time.

Other days, groups would come into my office and I would ask how a meeting on the Hill went with the member of Congress. They would tell me, “It was great! He is totally on board. He said, ‘I’m so glad you brought this to my attention.’”

I would smile and ask, “Wait, what else did he say? What you just told me is not actually agreement. That’s a polite response to acknowledge your presence.”

Then I would receive dumbfounded stares.

Advocacy must include listening for what is being said, not what a person seeks to hear.

“I’m so glad you brought this to my attention.”

“Thank you so much, I will look into this.”

“This is really helpful information, I’m glad you came in.”

None of these statements convey support, a yes, or agreement to a cause.

It is easy to misinterpret words if we are not completely listening to what is actually being said.

Listening requires being humble enough to focus 100 percent on someone else. It means placing everything else out of mind. It means letting go of preconceived ideas and putting oneself in the speaker’s shoes to best understand that perspective.

Listening entails complete concentration – not just hearing the sounds – but comprehending the words, and noticing the body language and other non-verbal cues. Without listening, it can be difficult to offer a meaningful response or ask thoughtful follow-up questions.

If a person is hearing, but not listening, he is not learning anything new – which means he is not helping his cause. If he already knows everything and does not feel the need to listen, why the meeting? For face time?

Advocates always seek a better rapport and more face time with elected officials and their staffs.

Instead of more meetings, hold more meaningful meetings. Pay attention and make the person feel important by actually listening and engaging in real conversation, and then conducting the follow-up.

For example, if a staff person is asking questions, an advocate can better develop a relationship by listening to what he is looking for and emailing additional information. It could be a courtesy meeting, but an advocate could also be making a great ally by demonstrating he is a team player and will put some skin in the game.

If an elected official responds with, “This is the first I have heard of it,” that may indicate more background information is needed.

If a member of Congress asks, “Who else is on board,” he is likely still on the fence and may need more convincing. All sorts of clues are provided to individuals who are really listening in a meeting to best guide their next advocacy decisions.

Finally, never discount what someone says because of the way it is presented. Some people speak faster, some slower, some have a stutter – listen to their words and notice their body language – it offers more insight.

In conclusion, remember, a person’s mouth is far more likely to get him in trouble than his ears – so listen more.

-- Riemann is president of 1492 Communications, a consulting firm. She can be reached at: wendy@1492communications.com.

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