Did You Hear That?

‘You earn when you listen—not just money, but respect.’

September 24, 2012


I am trying to be a better listener.

I considered this goal as I walked through a wooded park the other day.  The “silence” was a stark contrast to my typical daily work environment where ringing phones, multiple conversations, tapping keyboards, and other aural disruptions can clutter my senses and create distractions.

The initial apparent silence of the park illuminated to me the importance of listening, and what we can learn with conscious attentiveness.  I heard the sounds of moving water, hopping squirrels, buzzing insects, and even the wings of a hummingbird as it zipped by.  With acknowledgement of these sounds, I began to watch for activity and interactions in this ecosystem which was suddenly no longer silent, but teeming with life.

 My “quietness” allowed me to more fully appreciate the experience.

Are you attentive to your surroundings?  What do your members or coworkers think and talk about?  When they speak to you, do you really hear them?  What do not only their words say, but their body language?  Can you sense a mood?  Fear, perhaps?  Or enthusiasm?  Anger?

How will you respond to not only words but emotions and motivations behind the vocabulary that will be obvious if you take the time to observe?  How can attentiveness affect your thoughts and responses?

What might this week’s research findings say to you beneath the surface of the facts?

Hearing Hispanics

September is National Hispanic Heritage Month—a good opportunity for us to listen to this important demographic.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics presents an interesting glimpse of this group. A few facts of note:

Another interesting study is “Latino Immigrant Entrepreneurs: How to Capitalize on Their Economic Potential.”  It reveals that “Latino immigrant entrepreneurs are making important contributions to the U.S. economy” in large industries  and “small-scale Latino immigrant entrepreneurs…have helped revitalize city commercial strips and small-town Main Streets across the country.”

The difficulty is that this economic potential is not fully realized as visas are difficult to obtain and access to credit is problematic.  Policy changes could help alleviate these problems.

The Economic Value of Citizenship for Immigrants in the United States” does not specifically address the Hispanic population, but some important considerations are outlined, such as “motivations for naturalizing range from gaining political rights and economic benefits to personal and social considerations.”

Some key findings with regard to economic benefits of citizenship:

Listen to consumers

In a quiet moment, learn that “A Third of Americans Now Say They are in the Lower Classes,”  according to Pew Research.  “Many in the lower class see their prospects dimming.  About three-quarters (77%) say it’s harder now to get ahead than it was 10 years ago.”  And only about half say that “hard work brings success.”

Are you listening to your members who struggle financially?  Can you attend to their needs?

Meanwhile, listen to “Who Says They Have Ever Used a Government Social Program,” a Cornell University paper.  Surprisingly, many are unaware of the benefits they receive when the government comes to their aid with assistance.  “Only 43 percent of respondents said that they had “ever used a government social program” and 57 percent said they had not ever done so” when asked if they had used such a program.

Again, policies may be at the heart of the issue.  “The status of policies of the submerged state as government social programs simply eludes the notice of most beneficiaries.”

What social programs have financial benefits that your members experience—but strangely do not see or appreciate?  Do they attend to such matters?  Might there be benefits to their increased understanding of their financial situations?

Economic echoes from around the world are revealed in “Prices and Earnings: A Comparison of Purchasing Power Around the Globe” by CIO Wealth Management Research.  This interesting report includes fun bits of trivia such as the fact that “food (is) most expensive in Tokyo, Zurich and Geneva” and “guests in Africa pay the least for an overnight stay in a first-class hotel, with the regional average of around 250 US dollars being 31% below the global figure.”

This study will help you appreciate and understand our own economic situation in the U.S.

Finally, take a listen to census data on “Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011.”  Here, “The nation’s official poverty rate in 2011 was 15 percent, with 46.2 million people in poverty,” and “Real median household income in the United States in 2011 was $50,054, a 1.5 percent decline from the 2010 median and the second consecutive annual drop.”

What does this information say to you?  What is the reality for your members?

I am out of the woods now and back at work.  Listening is important for me here, too.  “When people talk, listen completely.  Most people never listen,” said Ernest Hemingway.

It is vital that we are attentive and aware of how we affect our co-workers, members, and passers-by as we strive to not only provide good service but also to make meaningful connections with purposeful silence and attentiveness.

Further incentive?  We will personally benefit from acknowledgement and our ensuing appropriate response to others, perhaps in many ways.

“You learn when you listen.  You earn when you listen—not just money, but respect.”—Harvey Mackay.

LORA BRAY is a research librarian in CUNA's business-to-business publishing department.