Adeela Warley: Why we should listen more

If we take other people's stories and amplify them, we can build relationships and surpass our expectations

Adeela Warley
Adeela Warley

During his time in office, President Obama read and replied to 10 letters every day from the 10,000 letters the White House received.

They helped to shape his agenda. Some were framed as constant reminders, others turned into daily word clouds and distributed to policy-makers, giving them a glimpse into the ideas and concerns of the nation.

He believed everyone had a story to tell and would share it with you, if you listened. For Obama, this was the glue around which relationships formed and democracy worked.

Too often we get wrapped up in pushing out the stories we want our supporters to hear: the next campaign, event or fundraiser. We put aside all good intentions to listen more and tell less, to empathise and facilitate authentic conversations.

Some years ago, Friends of the Earth invited supporters to tell it how it was doing, not by filling in a survey but by offering a free-form box for hand-written replies. More than 300 people took the trouble to share their experiences and their replies were read by directors, staff and volunteers. Their feedback shaped a new supporter care charter and helped to improve services.

The Cystic Fibrosis Trust's Christmas Star campaign also grew out of listening. A little girl called Elle wrote a letter to her doctor thanking him for keeping her alive while she waited for a transplant. Staff were listening and worked with Elle and her family to turn her story into a short film viewed by millions.

By listening and amplifying other people's stories, we can build relationships and surpass expectations.

Adeela Warley is chief executive of CharityComms

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