Manifest Boston Stories

Manifest Mornings: A Conversation with Diane Hessan

Written by Lindsay Gearheart | May 21, 2020 4:07:55 PM

Many of us pride ourselves on our communication skills — we think we could sell ice to a polar bear with all our persuasive language and skillful presentations. But would you call yourself a good listener? During today's Manifest Mornings conversation, Diane Hessan shared with us stories from her successful career and tips on how listening can help each of us in our own lives.

Diane started the morning with a lesson from the start of her career that had a major influence on her approach for years to come. At Diane's first job at General Foods, she was asked what brands she was interested in working with. Her only request was, “Put me on a brand I can understand, something that makes sense." In other words: Don’t put me on decaf coffee. Soon after, she found herself working on Brim decaffeinated coffee and learning how important it is to try to understand people different from yourself.

Further down the road, Diane moved on to a training and development company called Forum, where they conducted a study looking at what differentiates the best sales people in an organization. They found that the best sellers listened to their customers — a novel idea at the time. "Unpack listening," Diane told us, "And you get these three words: Encouraging, Questioning, and Confirming." When talking with a customer, a smart approach for salespeople is to summarize what they've heard and check with the customer to confirm or clarify.

Throughout the remainder of the session, Diane shared some other reasons to listen, including:

  • Keeping a pulse on our country - During the 2016 election, Diane was asked by a friend to help interpret data about undecided voters. Really listening to these voters who were on the fence (a position unthinkable to many) and trying to understand them was surprising and eye-opening. As a result, Diane wrote an op-ed for the Boston Globe that went viral and has led to many more insightful Globe contributions. 
  • For the "next thing" - As someone who has both led and created startups in her career, Diane utilizes her listening skills when taking meetings with people starting new businesses (something she does about five times per week!). During these conversations, the big questions she asks are: How big is the problem they're trying to solve? Does what they're doing solve the problem? (For this question, domain expertise is helpful.) And most importantly, who’s the team?
  • As an act of love - We're in a strange place as a society right now. We're all trying to navigate this pandemic, which is affecting everyone differently. Being an active listener (to your customers, and your family/friends) is more important now than ever. Diane's advice? Try really listening hard the next time you’re talking with someone. If they say, "I'm down today," resist the temptation to say, “But at least you have a job,” or, “Look at all of the people who aren't sure where their next meal is coming from.” Instead, try saying, “Tell me more about what’s going on,” or, “I can tell you're down. What’s getting to you the most?” You'll be amazed at what you learn and how much more helpful you can be. Don't try to solve the problem; just hear them out.

For the full story, give today's Manifest Mornings session with Diane Hessan a watch by pressing play on the recording below.

Try out Diane's advice and let us know on Slack or our social channels (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram with #ManifestMornings) about your results. We loved seeing some of your feedback in the Slack channel this morning!