We all know listening is important—we were told as much in school, in relationships, and in our work. We've heard all about listening. But, what is missing from what we do (that we may think is listening) that makes our work, our ideas, our conversations vital to changing and shaping the world? Listening for action.

We are told to listen.  Especially in the social impact sector, "listening" can mean so many things.  

"Listen to your market, your community, and what they are saying about you."  We listen as a way of market research. We are listening in order to know what people think about us and our work, our services or our products. We listen, track, make notes, even analyze.

"Listen to your competitors, listen to their communities, as they are yours, too."  We listen to the competition and what people think of their work and services.  We listen, make notes, make comparisons.

"Listen to your staff—they know more about what your organization does every day than anyone else." We listen to our staff, often in limited ways, to hear their experiences and ideas. We listen, makes notes, file papers.

This is listening to learn. It's incredibly important but it is lopsided. It fills us with information and data, ideas and understandings, and a lot more questions. We learn, but we don't connect. We learn, but we don't grow on our own learnings.

We want to have conversations.  We listen and we start conversations.  Some times we hear so much that we can't stand just listening anymore.

"Join the conversation that's already happening online."  We know our work, our issues, our services, and our ideas are being talked about and we want to be part of the community that's doing the talking.  We know where the conversations are taking place because of all that listening we did already.  So we start commenting on the blogs, replying on Twitter, professionalizing our profile on facebook. 

"Share your story."  We get excited by the tools and opportunities for telling the story of our work.  We let people know all about the impact we've made, the campaigns we've created, and the ideas we like. Our blog comments, status updates, and shared links bring people back to our message.

This is listening to share.  It's incredibly important but it is just as lopsided as listening to learn.  Just as before we were pulling everything in, now we are simply pushing everything out.  Communication does't work this way.  Social change doesn't work this way.  Social media should not work this way.  

We need to act, together.  Listening to act is the trigger to collaboration, to building a movement, to making change.  When we listen to act, we don't make notes and go home nor do we simply wait our turn to speak.  Listening to act requires us to harness the power of our real-time global community to find and create opportunities for ideas and needs to connect with those who can make them happen.

Listening to act means listening to learn where the opportunities are for collaboration.  It means listening to share the needs you have and the vision for the world you want to create.  Listening to act is like thinking aloud, in public, with a community of people listening and suggesting opportunities to act together.

Listening is the only way we can change the world, but only if we listen to act.