...you jump from question to question based on what they're saying, not based on what you want to say.
...you jump from question to question based on what they're saying, not based on what you want to say.
Not all listening is equal. What people tell you can swing dramatically based on the questions you ask. In this episode, John explains how to structure the questions and how to really listen to the responses from the community.
Takeaways and Teachable Moments
GET MORE PEOPLE LISTENING TO THE TRANSCRIPTS (OF THE CONVERSATIONS).
TREAT IT AS QUALITATIVE, NOT QUANTITATIVE, RESEARCH.
FIGURE OUT WHAT THE PEOPLE REALLY WANT TO TALK ABOUT AND LET THEM.
CRAFT OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS.
BUILD TEAMS TO WRITE QUESTIONS.
AVOID OVERLY SPECIFIC QUESTIONS.
BE EXCITED BY OTHER PEOPLE'S THOUGHTS.
Answers to questions are a commodity. Knowing what the community feels or thinks about a wind project allows you to address the right issues and to proactively maximize your efforts. In this episode John redesigns the profession of listening, laying out best practices for building questions that lead to knowledge that actually helps your project rather than bog it down in mountains of useless data points.
John helps to adjust our views on the differences between thinking and feeling and how communities use each to make decisions. He covers the most common challenges to getting good responses including how to ask a question when we don't know what people are thinking. We learn that if we don't know the right question, we're not going to get the answers that are essential to success.
Overcome the Opposition: Listen First
Mark Sylvester: John Davies has a method, an approach he systematically developed over a career spanning three decades. He's proven it to be invaluable for dozens of industries and thousands of projects facing public acceptance. Up until now, the method has only been available to his select client list.
John is unpacking his insight and wealth of knowledge to overcome opposition and earn public support for the first time right here. Throughout these episodes, we'll take a deep dive step by step with John into his strategies to overcome opposition and create support. Nothing is free in this world, but good ideas are priceless.
This show could be just the thing you've been looking for. I'm Mark Sylvester. Now, let's get started and talk with John.
Welcome back to the show, John. We have gone through in the first half of the Davies method, and talked about the philosophy. Kind of at the higher order, and we were talking about Aristotle, we've looked at the various methodologies. Now what I want to do, is I really want to dig into actionable things and I want to start with, so the next five shows, we've already talked about what we're going into, but I want to focus now on listening.
Why is listening first?
John Davies:I really think when I sit with clients who have been doing a lot of things in the wind industry, you know a client we're working with now, we're doing almost a dozen wind farms for them, and we've had numerous phone calls, conference calls with a dozen people, and the first thing we wanted to do was communicate with the public. So, we needed to do a radio spot, get a flyer, find out how we get a booth at the county fair and what do we put on the tail of the table. My first question is, what do the people in the community think about wind? And what are they worried about? What's come in from other places that is good news and bad news? How are we dealing with the 71% of the community that love renewable energy, or when two thirds of the community don’t? How do we get in between them to figure out what they're saying?
We can't go talk to people till we know what they think, how they feel about it, and how to approach it.
Mark Sylvester: Do you feel that is done best with surveys and research polls, that kind of thing?
John Davies: Right. We all start there, you know, you do a poll. And, I remember 30 plus years ago was the first time I got to be the lead in getting a poll started. And then, I spent a time in my career where I was working really closely with a research firm. I would do the analysis in the big years of U.S. Senate campaigns and the big controversial congressional campaigns, and you know, they'd send me two or three polls a week. I'd read all the corners, and all the data, it’s the greatest education ever. Those are great and it was really interesting, but there's so much polling today and people's thoughts are so much more complex, their reasoning, their thought process. It isn't a straight line from a thought, into a belief.
We've changed how we've done that, we just don't do that poll anymore because how do we ask a question when we don't know what people are thinking? How do we ask questions, when we don't know where people are going with something? We don't know the question, so we're not gonna get the answers.
Mark Sylvester: Well, why don't we just use focus groups?
John Davies: Okay, I love focus groups. The method we used that I want to share with people is so painfully simple that it makes it really hard. It's simple because what you need to do it is a telephone, a list of people in the community, mostly people that have some type of leadership, thought leadership, or involvement. And, the ability to write 10 to 20 questions.
We're really good about writing the questions. We're really good at reading the answers. When polling, what happens is you get on the phone, and what's spectacular about a poll is you're talking to one person and you know, most polls are 20 almost 30 minutes sometimes. Now, they've gotten shorter and shorter. The questions are, if I read you a list of statements and you tell me if you'd be more likely or less likely to support a wind farm if that was true. The question is "local farmers would be receiving one point five million dollars a year, does that make you more likely or less likely?" "More likely." "Is that much more likely or somewhat more likely?" "Somewhat more likely." Well what do you want to say right after that as a normal human? Why? Why? "Why is it somewhat more likely, why is that much more likely?"
In traditional polling, there's no why and it’s just closed-ended questions. You don't know why I'm being consistent on some questions, because you don't understand what I think. So in focus groups, they're amazing because they're open ended, you know. Someone says, "Hey, how do you feel about this, what do you think of this?" By the way, did you hear the two words I used?
Mark Sylvester: What words?
John Davies: Think, feel. Some people are thinkers, some peoples are feelers, so you've gotta talk to them both. How do you feel about that? Oh, if I'm a feeler type, I'm gonna respond with how I feel about it. Hey, he understands me, because I feel about things. How do you think about it? I'm a thinker, you know these people who feel about things all the time. We don't know that, but when we talk, that's how you open 'em up.
In a focus group, you ask those questions, they're open ended, you go around a room, and that's where the problem starts. You've got 10, 12 people around a room, you got two hours tops. You can take the half hour to get into it, probably 10 minutes to get out of it, so you don't have a lot of time and you got 10 people, you divide you know, 75 minutes by 10 people, you've got seven point five minutes a piece. That's not the way it is, it's usually one guy takes a half hour and the rest of them get about two minutes. A lot of nodding. Really interesting, great to sit in the room to watch, but too many people, too many opinions.
We want to do a poll of one, with the open ended questions to the focus group, so we call them focused interviews and we talked to, we found 25 people to be sufficient. Sometimes we go up because the sub-groups, we want to make sure we're talking to different groups. So we might go up to 35, 40, 50, and we talk to them. Our ideal number of questions now is 22, used to be 30. People's attention span is dropping.
22 questions, it's 45 minutes up to an hour and it's all open ended and the questions matter, but the answers matter more.
Mark Sylvester: Do you have a database of these questions?
John Davies: We have an approach for the first third of the questions, and it's all about them, and so when we talk to someone about, you ask questions about someone else's life and what they're doing without interjecting something about your life, they get really interested. Right? I mean, that's what a podcast is about. You know, you get the guy in your studio and you say, you tell me how important you are and I get to sit here and put it out and people get interested. Then I start asking you tough questions and I make you think, and that's what a podcast is. That's what, that's the beauty of a podcast. People get excited because they get to talk about themselves. We do the same thing.
I had, I found this little method, I don't know where I got it from, years ago when our kids were young. It was called then, the most important four minutes.
Mark Sylvester: The most important four minutes.
John Davies: Yes. The most important four minutes in a day, in a relationship. The deal was, studies were done that say, when you come into a situation or talk to someone, if you focus on them for four minutes, meaning that you ask them questions and the questions are related to one another, you jump from question to question based on what they're saying, not based on what you want to say. You don't interject. When I'd come home and our kids were little, my wife says, “You know, I'm dealing with three kids” and I might have been on the road for a couple days or I left work early. And, I'm coming home at six or seven. I’d call her and spend four or five minutes, whatever it took, listening. Sometimes I drove around the block twice, to make sure she was done, and I just asked her questions. At first, I tried to solve problems. Then I started thinking, no I just need to listen. So I listened to her. Then, when I come home, everything's fine. I had four minutes, five minutes of her allowing me to listen to how bad, how tough, the day was. I was like wow, whoa, that's bad, that's really bad, that's tough. Wow.
So, what we do on the calls is, we listen to people. And, they tell us why they live where they live. They tell us what they love about it, they tell us how they chose it, they tell us what's going on: what's been good, what's been a little challenging? How the people leading the community are doing. What would,people tell me in just a few minutes of what it's like to live there?
We always ask "What do you think?" And then "What do other people say?" That allows them to get in a little bit. Sometimes it's what they think, but they don't want to say that's what they're thinking. Other times it's what they think. We're getting this incredible input about the community from the point of view of local residents who are thought leaders.
Mark Sylvester: It begs the question that there's some interesting training you must do for the people who run these phone banks.
John Davies: The craziest thing is who are the best at it and who's not. If you look at it, I really want to ask you a question in this because that's just in my nature. So, who do you think would be, naturally you would go after to be the best person to make these phone calls?
Mark Sylvester: That's a great, now I'm saying that's a great question. You're always the one saying that's a great question. I'm gonna guess it's counterintuitive.
John Davies: Well, so normally you think a salesperson, someone good at sales.
Mark Sylvester: You know, I don't think so.
John Davies: It's not.
Mark Sylvester: A salesperson always has an agenda, they don't want to listen. I would, to me, where I went was in improver.
John Davies: You got it, it's an actor.
Mark Sylvester: Right.
John Davies: It's an actor. It's someone, so our first callers that really made this work and we figured out that you need great callers, were out of work actors and actresses. They are amazing on the phone.
Mark Sylvester: Who knew?
John Davies: Yeah, I mean I had no idea, so now that's what we look for and then we look for people that have those skills. So they talk, I mean think about it, you got someone on the phone for 45 minute to an hour, you better be pretty good at being interested in what they say.
What we do is, they give us all that information, I would love to listen to all of them. I mean, I really would.
Mark Sylvester: You can't. That's hundreds of hours.
John Davies: 25 hours of listening if you didn't stop and play back, which you'd probably do 10 times. We get a verbatim, every word they said, and we read through it.
Mark Sylvester: I think you've told me before that you kind of bull pen this to where there'll be three or four of you going through these verbatims together and there's a bit of a hive mind thing that happens.
John Davies: Yeah, totally. Actually, we created our office architecture based on this. The best time we ever did reviews, I notice we're on the road, and we're all forced to sit around a table. We've all read it on an airplane or read it somewhere and we're sitting around a table looking for findings and we write some findings and we'd pass our computers around. We'd exchange computers. Someone would write two or three findings and then someone else would rewrite it and then we'd debate it, but it was more just writing and quick talking.
We'd start at like eight in the morning and at eight at night, we're like, we actually, couple of us want to go to the gym, we gotta break if we're gonna go to the gym and have dinner tonight. We're so focused on getting it done so we created an office with that type of open environment and table to work at for other things.
We read it, we write findings. We bounce the findings around, while one of our guys is really good at taking the final shot at getting a draft group of findings. I write the very final because that's just my prerogative. They're thoughtful, they're five to nine findings. After reading these, we take those and turn them into the dangers, opportunities, strengths that we talked about before.
Mark Sylvester: I'm really curious and, you were saying you're solution-oriented when you would talk to your wife. I'm thinking of machine learning and if I could take those verbatims and put them through a machine. Through Watson let's say. And say, “Tell me what are the things that are similar here,” and Watson could totally do that by the way, and probably give you an extremely well-thought-out analysis of what those 25 conversations were. Had you ever thought of that?
John Davies: We do, we do word analysis, looking at what words are used a lot and we would do a little word map and it produced nothing of substance. So the reason for that is, this is qualitative research, not quantitative.
Watson probably could do it because of this artificial intelligence reading it, but most other type programs aren’t gonna do that. I mean, we have to read it with another hat on. Which is, we understand what we're trying to do. We understand what wind farms are about and as we read the comments, we're able to make those judgements and so we're not just looking at this from one dimension. It's more of a three-dimensional look.
Mark Sylvester: You said earlier that you don't have the time to listen, but you also, I've heard you say, that when you can listen, there is an emotion, and there is passion. How do we capture that?
John Davies: Well, so it's really funny, and I think we all read them differently. But I read them and I hear their voice, and I think a couple of the other guys do too that will be on at different times. But we really try to capture their language and their words, so there's a lot of phrases. They're not complete sentences, there's funny wording, like if you're gonna take a transcript of what I say in these podcasts, you know, they're not complete sentences so we try to make sure we get that.
When someone does a partial sentence, they jump to something else. They’re moments of, “oh, this is what I really want to talk about” and that's what we try to capture. So we're looking for the words they say, but I'm trying to get the music. What's the beat? What's the pause? What's the subject change? By the way, there's just some people that are just plain boring to talk to. And it's like, oh my gosh, it's like this guy, every paragraph says the same thing. I mean, you do a survey and every time, it's usually someone that's on one edge of the political spectrum. And everything they talk about is seen through their political spectrum, and immediately, you just want to cross them off, but you can't. I mean everything they say is, "Well, if we would just look at this from this point of view."
Mark Sylvester: I am, I feel like I have explained this, I feel like I'm in the question business.
John Davies: Yeah.
Mark Sylvester: That I've got a database of thousands of questions. I love the little game called Table Topics, have you seen those?
John Davies: Oh yeah.
Mark Sylvester: First time I saw that about 20 years ago and okay, this is fantastic and I would always take a couple of those and throw them in my pocket when we'd go out to dinner with people we didn't know that well and you could, you had permission to ask these questions. Let's, because listening is to your point, the first third is asking about them and then being able to respond and ask the follow-on questions. Tell me what you think is the architecture of a great question.
John Davies: Well first, it's who, what, where, why, when, and how.
Mark Sylvester: That's old school.
John Davies: That's exactly it. It's open ended. If you want to see the guy that does questions the absolute best, and in the right nonverbal behavior, watch Columbo. Watch an old episode of Columbo and you know he never comes on direct, he always comes on at a bleak angle at you. He always try to be a little bit below you so if you're sitting, he almost kneels, so you remember him.
Mark Sylvester: He affects status during the call.
John Davies: Exactly, and he holds the back of his head and he looks down and he's sort of like, well he knows. You weren't home the night of the murder but who were you with, and why weren't you home with your wife? It's like oh. And then he traps them, because he traps them in open-ended questions instead of closed end ones. That's the deal. You’ve gotta build question on top of question. You can't force it. I get too specific when I write them, so I don't write the questions. Our team writes them. I am the worst person to write these, because I get too specific. I want to drill down too hard. So I have a method, and other people do my method better. I know that's hard to admit, right?
Mark Sylvester: That's why we're doing this show.
John Davies: Absolutely.
Mark Sylvester: We're training a bunch of people in the method. What could someone do today to kind of think about how they listen and maybe how to improve their listening, today. I know there's something they could do today. What would it be?
John Davies: Well, first off, when taking notes. Think about what we're doing. We're having someone on the phone, and some of them are actors and actresses. So they have this ability to be excited by other people's thoughts, and play it back to them, so that's one thing. The other thing is, listening means getting something in your head that they said. Stephen Covey had this deal that he would have people do for what he called, I think, a three prong listening. So we'd have you know one person talking, one person listening who play back like an outline of what they said, and the other person would repeat sort of what the person said translated.
You would make a statement about what's going on in your life, and the first person would say "So, the things going on in your life are you just dropped off your children at college, and you're an empty nester and you and your wife are having this issue," and go through some. The other guy would say, "Wow, you know, I see that you're having a real change in your life and you're having an empty nester moment and you're doing these things and that's pretty exciting. That's great."
When you do that exercise, it’s hard. I encourage people right now to do that exercise. Stop at the end, go get two friends, have one of them tell them a story, and one of you just say "Okay, these are the issues you're talking about." The second person repeats the story in an empathetic manner and see how hard it is.
Mark Sylvester: I love that. John, I want to end it right there because I love leaving some homework for someone to go back and try this. Next week, we're going to get into the next step as once you've got this research and you have your, you introduce a new word to us, findings, so it's the findings from that research and being able to crystallize that down, that's going to lead to our next lesson, which is around dreams and fears, which really ties right into listening.
Thanks a lot, John.
Thank you for listening. It's now your opportunity and responsibility to use the method today. You've completed one segment toward understanding the Davies method. We look forward to you subscribing. Join us as we uncover and explain the nuances of John's distinctive approach. For more episodes, visit thedaviesmethod.com. I'm Mark Sylvester recording the Poll String Press Studios in Santa Barbara, California.