Listening Better for Insights

Listening is a subject that we take seriously at Nobles Research. Insights come by way of listening. Without listening, it is impossible to obtain understanding. I once wrote, if a focus group took place and no one listened, did it really happen? Well, it might as well have not taken place. Yet as I work with clients, sometimes I see empty back rooms and unused FocusVision sessions.

One of the ways to get more out of the research is to listen better, to be present in the moment. It is a challenge to get team members to attend research, and even if they are there in body, it does not mean that they are present in mind. It amazes me how often people are occupied by answering emails, participating on conference calls, and schmoozing their boss while the research is taking place. However, there are ways you can encourage more listening participation among your team.

Ways to Encourage Better Listening

Set the expectation before research that it is to be a time of learning

  • Do this when invitations are sent for the research
  • Schedule a briefing session to set the tone and review research objectives
  • Insist on attendance

I recall in my product development days identifying a key insight during a round of research, but a key team member was not present. It seemed like a struggle in the following days to get the missing team member to internalize the insight and be as excited as the rest of us that attended the research.

Establish the sanctity of the backroom

Let the attendees know that silence is golden in the backroom. If they need to make a call or have a discussion with someone else in the backroom, they should step outside.

Utilize listening exercises in the backroom

Everyone loves to compete; keep the team involved by having them capture their thoughts on panelists’ comments on Post-it notes. Prior to the start of the research, place large sheets on the wall with headings such as behaviors, motivations, things I have never heard before or other relevant topics. Team members then place their post-it notes on the sheets during or at the conclusion of the group. This technique also provides a good record of what people heard during the research and encourages active listening participation.

Consider in-context research to encourage active participation

Assuming in-context research will satisfy your research objectives, having team members participate in the in-home or in-store interviews will encourage better listening.

Don’t neglect the debriefing session

So often people rush out of research without making an investment of time in team building and a consistent understanding of what was heard.

Debriefing sessions are like eating vegetables or exercising. We know we should do these things, yet we often neglect to do what will benefit us in the long run. A debriefing session can help the team to capture what was heard, build consensus around what was learned and establish next steps. An effective session can be done in an hour or less.

A good next step is to publish a one pager that captures the key themes or findings from the research. In the absence of a debriefing session, different “truths” about what occurred in the research may circulate through an organization. A good debriefing can ensure that all team members are on the same page when they leave the research. One client I work with always publishes a one page summary that captures the key themes from the research that team members from different functions can share with their respective managements.

Persevere until the end

We can never predict when the insight will come, but it is only natural that our energy begins to fade by the end of the day. I sometimes see teams lose interest by the time the final group rolls around, but persevere and keep listening. There may be a great respondent in that final group that articulates something in a different way that sparks new thinking. So I encourage you to hang in there until the very end.

Future Dividends

We forget about 95% of what we hear in 72 hours.
Imagine spending $20,000 on a round of research, yet only getting $1,000 of value from it.

If this statement is true or even partly true, it is a strong argument for capturing what was heard from the research.

Listening well and capturing what was shared by the respondents can possibly provide an exponential return on your research dollars. When you stop and think about it, an insight can spark a new product idea or category, potential cost savings or more effective advertising.

It is hard to put a value on an insight, but an insight could be worth millions. Listening well can pay big dividends.