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Author's profile photo Anna D'Ambrosio

Listening for the Solution

/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/train_248981.jpgEffective communication is key to understanding our customers and hearing their problems. Finding a creative solution necessitates communicating. Stopping, listening, seeing, understanding what customers are saying. Yet noise constantly interferes with our ability to truly hear what’s on someone’s mind.  I used to live by a train station, where trains would come and go all day long. After living there for some time, I could no longer hear the train when it came. I would long forget the pattern of the dinging crossing arms and train horn. It wouldn’t be until guests were visiting when that train sound became amplified. Noise I became used to and comfortable with halted conversation it its tracks. The train outside now affected my listening and that of the new visitors, without me even realizing a problem existed. The noise within our lives may not always be noticeable, just like in the example of the train. We’re constantly in need of finding a new way to pre/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/noise_248977.jpgpare our minds to fully listen to the problem.

Noise comes in many forms, stretching further than the physical noise of the train yard. Noise is also in seeing only our perceptions of situations, hearing our personal thoughts, and misunderstanding the perspective of the person we are attempting to hear. With noise surrounding us, how do we hear the true problems? How do we find creative solutions that change lives? Where should we focus? Are the needs of our customers being met?

Effective listening is a skill that requires thought, care, and determination. With training and practice you’re able to set aside your frame of reference and step inside the lenses of another person. Here are some listening tips (compiled from the blog posts linked below): look – pick up on nonverbal cues and help your ears out by facing the person talking, hear – understand the person talking, create a picture of what they’re saying, react – ask a question, take notes, acknowledge what was said.


While listening is difficult, and there are many practices to improve your listening, it most importantly requires empathy. Empathy with the customer, empathy in the problem, empathy in finding a creative solution. As Raghu Mani discussed in his blog post earlier this week, Realizing Empathy– A tryst with emotion, “all it takes is to EMPATHISE”. This is at the heart of listening, and the core of design thinking. In order to innovate, we must first see, feel, hear, and most importantly understand the needs of our customers. When you truly understand the customer, you are equipped to find a solution that fits those needs. You can focus on creating solutions your customers can use to simplify their life instead of adding to the chaos.

What ways do you find keeps you listening the best? How do you empathize while listening?

These blogs have more insight and tips on the benefits of effective listening:

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      Author's profile photo Marilyn Pratt
      Marilyn Pratt

      Thanks Anna for sharing your thoughts here.  Glad you are sharing the editorial work on this space as well.  Would love for you to introduce yourself to the community.  Many of us would enjoy knowing more about you, your background and why you have raised your hand to help raise awareness around the topic of Design Thinking.

      Looking forward to active engagement!

      Author's profile photo Raquel Pereira da Cunha
      Raquel Pereira da Cunha

      Nice blog Anna. I have faced a similar situation related to going from a noisy place to a silent place (when working) and now the noise that used to be normal affects me a lot. But I agree not only with the literal part of the blog (about the physical noise) but also with what you said about the noise that doesn't allow us to "listen". We hear people and all the noise around (our points of view, our feelings, other thoughts that are not related to what are being said and deviates our mind), we hear our customers explaining their needs, but some times we don't listen to them, not with the necessary attention and empathy. And they do the same with us.

      What you wrote has a lot to do with what I learned with Slim in his "Role of Empathy in Design Thinking" speech last year at Teched.

      In one of the readings of my current HCD training (Human-Centered Design) I read this sentence: "Even when people do go into the field, they may enter with preconceived notions of what the needs and solutions are". How many times didn't we think we knew the best solution based on our preconceived notions, and we failed?

      Thanks for sharing.

      Best regards,


      Author's profile photo Anna D'Ambrosio
      Anna D'Ambrosio
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks Raquel! Do you have a link to the "Role of Empathy" speech you mentioned? I would love to listen to it. A video I watched recently touches on coming to a problem thinking there is a right answer and how that clouds our answer. It shows art from 3rd graders being asked to complete a picture. One way they are told there is a right way and the other just says complete it. The difference in creativity that comes out is astonishing. Check it out here.



      Author's profile photo Raquel Pereira da Cunha
      Raquel Pereira da Cunha

      Hi Anna,

      the "Role of Empathy in Design Thinking" event was not recorded as far as I know, but you can listen to Slim here:

      This link has some videos and articles, including the interview for TechEd Live Studio with Slim, Hester and Marilyn.

      Thank you for the link to the 3rd graders video, it's so cute! 😉