AI Just Doesn’t Listen

Why listening might become your competitive moat in the years ahead.

Lisa in Santa Fe at the Modern Elder Academy reunion
Lisa in Santa Fe at the Modern Elder Academy reunion

Welcome Summer! For me personally, this month has been a time for deep reflection, client meetings, and inspiring travel.

I traveled to Nashville for an AMA keynote. Then I headed to Santa Fe for the Modern Elder Academy reunion. Chip Conley and his team excel at connecting and welcoming sages of all ages.

More recently, my partner and I spent the weekend relaxing and honoring the fallen and our armed services veterans.

And earlier this month, we hosted our 72nd livestream and podcast. And The Art of Listening topic sparked debate and discussion.

Abhinav Kumar, the CMO of TATA Consulting, joined us from Brussels. He shared examples from TATA’s “global to local” communications playbook.

Abhinav faces a daunting leadership task and travel schedule. (Mine pales in comparison!) He oversees communications to engage and educate over 630,000 employees across 46 countries. They serve over 1,500 large customers globally. He balances this work with building a brand valued at $17.2B.

He helps hundreds of marketing team members listen deeply to their stakeholders. He expects them to listen through empathy, caring, and adapting to cultural, gender, and generational nuances.

Today, AI falls short in these areas. And why listening might become your competitive moat in the years ahead.

In this era of data deluge, suspicion, and endless chatter, I believe that our most successful marketing leaders are rediscovering the lost art of listening.

Listening is not a set of scripts, or a bucket of scraped content from large data sets. It’s an art form; a dance.

Here are my 9 listening rules to frame mindful communications and build trust:

1. I am not my ideas. This is why I always ask my clients what they value. I ask them to define their values. We refer back to them often—especially during times of transition and conflict.

2. This conversation is not all about me. When I sold enterprise software, my colleague would say: “Ineffective salespeople only have two modes: talking and waiting to talk.” What a sad but funny reminder.

3. I remain open to new ideas. I will not be defensive. I’ll be the first to admit it: When left unchecked, I cross the line from being intentional to being pushy. I want MY idea to win! This is a growth area for me.

4. I will ask questions before jumping into “telling” mode. Want to emulate some of the masters of asking great questions? Follow M. Eric McCarthey, Dorie Clark, and Andrew Sobel on LinkedIn. Their board level leadership, posts, and publications are game changers.

5. I will not interrupt. Have you ever lost patience with news commentators? I did this morning. CNBC’s staff talked over one another. They provoke bloviating CEOs, then cut them off. The list goes on. Does this serve the audience, or just fuel higher ratings?

6. I remain focused and calm. Here’s my mantra: When they go low, I go slow. I choose my words with great care. I lower my voice. It has helped me through some of the negotiations—as well as times when I needed to deliver bad news.

7. I will critique ideas, not people. When you compete for market share, it’s easy to berate competitors. I know—I sometimes did this while a product marketer at BMC Software. We attacked their strategies AND their salespeople. Over the long term, the dopamine hit wasn’t worth it.

8. I listen to understand, not to confirm (my biases). Libby Wagner, the President of Influencing Options®, taught me the power of confirming for understanding. Her models ensure both sides feel heard. Enjoy our Mindful Marketer livestream discussion here.

9. When someone else speaks, I will not start a response with the words “no,” “but” or “however.” These words rapidly erode trust. Want to playfully eradicate these from your meetings? Put a Fine Jar in the center of the meeting room. Whenever someone gets caught using these terms, they owe $5. Proceeds go to the charity of choice.

We are living in the early days of AI scripts. The initial LLMs (large language models) are not sensitive, versatile voices. Sure, advancements are happening., sends follow up text messages to check in on someone facing hardship. My friend Charlene Li shared this feature during her recent livestream.

But text messages and chatbots are not artists. They just don’t listen.

Live your art.


P.S. Want to improve your listening capacity to fuel innovation and growth? Here’s a suggestion: Join us at our 7th CMOs Leading Innovation Conference, November 2-3. Already 50% full! Details here:

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