Dell and Kodak*:  Worlds apart in product and positioning, in the past few years, both companies named executives to the post of Chief Listening Officer, otherwise abbreviated as CLO (though the earth doesn’t need another c-suite acronym).

According to news interviews, much of the CLO’s listening centers on customer feedback, and, appropriately enough, conversation mining –whether on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and/or other media – to track information that drives product and strategic direction. 

 Fair enough. 

 The art of listening, though, is frequently missing within other business functions, and within our individual communities. Personally?  We hesitate to say how long it’s been since we sat down, shut our mouths, and just listened to our partners and friends.   Even for 15 minutes.   It might be due to our distracted-ness or to a psychological need to express ourselves or to, quite simply, take over a conversation. 

 Professionally?  Though we do listen, it’s fair to say we’re often thinking about three things at a time, as inveterate multi-taskers.  Within our roles as communicators and marketers and designers, working inside a company or as consultants, listening isn’t always embedded in our everyday activities.  After all, we gotta get things done.  And listening takes time.

Here’s the other dirty secret:  Listening is hard.  It requires submerging the ego and paying 150 percent attention to another human being(s) for an undetermined amount of time.  It also demands that we clear our minds, delete lingering perceptions, and become open to the listening content. 

To be honest, listening is not taught in schools.  Nor do many businesses reward us for being quiet and thoughtful, for taking stock of the various dialogues we participate in. It would be a true accomplishment if more companies featured “listening” as one of their values, let alone appointed CLOs.  Imagine:  With true listeners onboard, would there be reason to document performance?  To worry about employee engagement?   To fret that clients don’t understand us?  To plan for constant customer turnover? 

Mom knew best:  It’s all about two ears and one mouth.   

*In 2012, Kodak’s CLO joined a social media agency.