At the inaugral meeting of Skill Share, I began to wonder if I had come to the wrong event.
I was invited by a guest on my podcast, Karol Thornton (pronounced Karl). Going freelance a couple of years ago, his website now showcases many of the services he provides: training people in restorative practice, working with offenders and presentational skills. It was his passion for social justice and giving back to the community that paved the foundations for Skill Share – a forum for social entrepreneurs.
I’m not a social entrepreneur
Now, Google’s definition of ‘Social Entrepreneur’ is “a person who establishes an enterprise with the aim of solving social problems or effecting social change.” Finely Fettled is a marketing services and consultancy business. I help clients make profit by attracting affluent individuals to their businesses. As I said, I am not a social entrepreneur.
However, at the meeting, I was surrounded by a number of ‘real’ social entrepreneurs:
- Lou Mycroft – a Thinking Environment coach and consultant. She shared this methodology in the first Skill Share meeting. Her background is in public health and community development.
- Claire Wright – she runs a Community Interest Company “Thinking Big” that delivers projects promoting inclusion, opportunity and well-being.
- Babs & Dean Matheson – creators of Calm & Centred. This is a Community Interest Company providing holistic therapies for well-being.
- Jill Mann – she works with Together for Peace, an organisation bringing diverse people together to create solutions for local and global issues.
- Andrew Gibson – he focuses on the third sector, charities and community companies and helps clients develop sustainable revenue streams.
- Quinn Daley – with a desire to help startups with their technology needs, they are keen to share “The Agile Manifesto“.
- Armstrong Cameron – Derrick and Dawn (Armstrong & Cameron) work on projects in the arts, cultural and third sectors, covering equality and social justice.
- Katherine Axel – a project manager working across arts and education using a boutique recording studio.
As the odd one out, I was the diverse participant. It was the wrong event for my business background. But the thing is, that didn’t matter.
Why Skill Share made me a social entrepreneur…for the day at least
As the gooseberry in the group, it would have been easy to inflict my views on the unbelieving.
Maybe you have been in a similar situation? You’re in a meeting and everyone wants to get their say. People interrupt. People leap in with prescribed solutions, even before you develop your point. Lou Mycroft called it ‘power play’; the sort of thing that you do in a meeting to confer your status, dressed up as help.
Yet, what was interesting (and refreshing) about this Skill Share meeting was that that didn’t happen. With Lou taking the lead, we followed her Thinking Environments approach.
For me this was close to being “Kumbaya”. The Thinking Environment approach required eye contact with the speaker and a neutral facial expression. It removed that natural urge to speak and meant we were all better listeners.
During the Skill Share session, there were two listening exercises that were extremely effective.
The first was a bit of an ice-breaker; each of us answered the question ‘Why have you come here?’ With the others making eye contact with you, you had your say. More importantly, you felt listened to and valued for your contribution.
For me, it was the second that had more of a personal impact. To set the scene, each person had 3 minutes to answer a question. Depending on who you are, 3 minutes can either seem too long or too short. But what I found was the last minute created the gold. The pressure meant that what was often said in the last minute was more important than the beginning; ‘save the best ’til last.’ This being the case, it kept me listening until the very end and, afterward, all listeners were encouraged to say thank you and compliment the speaker.
The listening lesson
Now, you might be thinking ‘so what?’ How is this experience important to myself, Graham, or indeed you, my reader?
Well, it is as simple as this – the art of listening.
As an entrepreneur of any kind – both social and for-profit – listening to customers is crucial. Part of any success is understanding what your customer wants inside-out so that you can deliver to the fullest.
Here’s an example:
On my way home I received a call from a young man who wanted to sell more boilers. He was asking me about different approaches to using direct mail. The key thing was that I let him talk. It was only then that I could talk and offer well-informed advice. As a result, the young chap received my expertise in the most useful way – it was catered to his needs.
So, though I thought Karol had made a mistake with inviting me to Skill Share, I am now extremely thankful. I may not be a social entrepreneur, but I sure know how to listen like one! If you want to be listened to with an attentive ear, and experience an exceptional service, contact me 01535 654930 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.