How to Listen with Ximena Vengoechea

Our guest today has had a fascinating career path. I could say that about all our guest, really. Who hasn’t had a fascinating career path?

But that’s some of what makes these conversations so important! It’s rarely linear. It never looks the way you think it will.

But I digress.

When Ximena Vengoechea realized that the path she was on wasn’t going to take her where she wanted to go, she started researching and exploring her curiosity around startups and tech. I love the process that she created for herself and where it took her.

I’ll let her share that story and how you can apply a similar process to your work and any transition you may be considering.

Today Ximena is a user researcher, author, and illustrator. She’s taken what she’s learned about really listening and drawing out the essence of what someone is bringing into a conversation into her new book, Listen Like You Mean It — Reclaiming the Lost Art of True Connection.

In our conversation, we dig into her career journey, her current work, and some of the great takeaways from her new book. It’s a blast. I think you’ll really enjoy this one.


Listen in here:

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In this episode you’ll learn:

  • What Ximena does
  • How she got into her current work
  • How she knew what next step to take
  • What is her career transition was like
  • What a User Experience Researcher does
  • Where the idea for her book came from
  • The advantage of learning to listen well
  • Some practical steps to improving your listening skills
  • How to engage in conversations that are difficult or uninteresting
  • What is “projection” and how does it impact listening?
  • What are the signs that you are listening well
  • What are connecting questions and how to use them
  • How to listen to when people see things differently from you
  • What’s the legacy she hope that her book will leave
  • Why is it important to be seen and understood

Resources Mentioned:

Ximena’s website

Ximena’s Twitter

Listen Like You Mean It by Ximena Vengoechea

Software Generated Transcription:

Dan

Ximena, thank you so much for joining me, welcome to the Meaning Movement podcast.

Ximena

Thanks so much for having me.

Dan

I think the best question that I always like to start with is how do you begin to talk about what you do in the world?

Ximena

Yeah, so I like to say that I have one of the most people centric roles in tech, which is a user researcher. So my job is to understand what makes people tick, what their needs are, their motivations are, and how we can design products that better meet those needs. And I’m also a writer and I write mostly about personal and professional development.

Dan

I love it.

I love it. Being a researcher, I mean, that sounds like kind of an intersection of a lot of things, I guess. What would be the Venn diagram of that piece of your work?

Ximena

Yeah, I mean, researchers come from all sorts of backgrounds. Mine is more on the academic side and art, history, and literature. A lot of researchers study psychology or sociology or anthropology. But really, no matter where you’re coming at it from, it’s about kind of understanding people. So my background is in literature and art history, and I was studying and understanding people within the context of fiction and painting. And that seems like it should have nothing to do with the user research.

But actually, in a way it does, because it teaches you really look closely at perceptions and motivations and just human nature.

Dan

I love it.

So you don’t just walk me through some of, you know, going from, you know, studying fiction and painting. I can see that the overlap of human nature, like you said. But it’s also not the most, I guess, logical or maybe logical, not the best word, maybe a better word is not the most obvious career path trajectory for you. What maybe, you know, I guess a good place to start would be what did you want to do when you grew up?

Like when you’re young, like was this were you pursuing writing fiction writing?

Were you pursuing art? And how did you get from there to here?

Ximena

Yeah, it’s a great question. And I also totally agree that it is not obvious. It was not obvious to me how all of these things connected. It’s really only in retrospect. I think that’s pretty common for career paths where you kind of start to see where the dots are connected. As a kid, I, I wanted to be a writer, so I was a very avid reader. I spent a lot of time at the library. My first job, like in high school, is working for the local paper.

So I did a bunch of journalism, you know, in my teens and then in college got this idea that maybe academia would be a fit. It’s a different kind of writing. I think I was more interested, even less so in the writing, more interested in the teaching and the understanding ideas and grappling with ideas and then, you know, getting to teach or in the art history space, getting to curate shows and things like that. So I thought about, you know, sort of like either professor or museum curator kind of thing.

And I was also one of those weirdos who really liked writing her thesis.

And like, I finished it early, like people hated that my friends were like, you’re crazy. This is something was clearly kind of clicking for me there. And so I decided that I wanted to go to grad school, but I actually did something, which I think in a really good way ruined me on grad school, which is that after graduation I decided to move to France. I had been studying art, history and literature largely, you know, French.

And I had kind of changed my mind during college. I was like, oh, I’m going to look at German and Spanish. And then I wound up looking at French. And so I wanted to move there to really immerse myself in the culture and get to know a little bit of the art scene there. And it was fantastic. It was as great as you’d imagine it being, you know, charming in all the ways that, like, if you’re a 20 something and Paris, like soaking up the culture like it was all those things, whatever you’re picturing, it’s probably that.

Dan

It’s that.

Exactly. Yeah.

Ximena

So I did that. I learn the language. I wound up working in a contemporary art gallery. I loved it. And at the same time I had this grad program that was waiting for me back in the States. And so I came back and I did two years in that program and I pretty quickly realized that it wasn’t going to be a fit long term. This was a six year program. I just realized, you know, graduate school really asks you to specialize and continue to get more and more narrow.

And that means that when you write, you are essentially writing for the same five people who are also as. Narrow and specific on what you’re you know, that one thing that you’re studying and it just wasn’t the kind of conversation that I wanted to have, I was much more interested in inviting lots of voices in. I was interested in talking about a lot of things. I’m more of a Renaissance woman who, you know, I do a little bit of writing, I do research, I do illustrating.

And it just wasn’t going to fit into that that path or that mold. And I sort of started to break away from it. At the same time, I ghostwrote a book while I was in grad school and I started looking into what was happening in the tech scene and I didn’t fully understand it, but I was really drawn to it and just kind of did a bunch of research and eventually decided, OK, like, you know, it’s similar to just kind of showing up in France and not knowing the language or what I was going to make my way.

I think I need to do something similar with startups. And so that was another pretty important career shift for me.

Dan

Yeah, a big a big part of it. And was the grad program, I think you said, but was it art history specifically?

Ximena

It was art history and comparative literature. So the generalist in me didn’t want to pick and I chose one of the few programs that would allow me to keep working on both.

Dan

Yeah, yeah. And so going from OK, well I love that you’re a Renaissance woman.

I think that really resonates with me and my approach to life. Often I have my hands and a lot of different projects across a lot of different, you know, in a lot of different directions. But going from that moment of like, OK, this isn’t the right program for me or this isn’t necessarily take me where I want to go. I think I’m really struck by just how the confidence, I guess, to just follow your curiosity, to say, OK, I’m going to move to France, I’m going to go explore the tech scene.

And I think I guess first there’s that piece within. To take it to the next step of actually like what do you do next? Like, how do you go from like this is an idea. This sounds like fun. Like what was that next step like for you to actually put action behind that?

Ximena

Yeah. So in both cases I did a lot of research. You know, I looked into I just started reading a lot like I was like TechCrunch. What’s this? Let me learn about it. You know, I, I joined Twitter at that point and I like, super immersed myself in, like, OK, startups, entrepreneurship. What are people saying? What are people reading? And then I also did a bunch of informational interviews. So I ended up when I left my grad program, I went back to New York, which is where I’m from.

So I stayed with my parents. That definitely helps for these kinds of big transitions, having some place to crash and kind of figure it out.

And I, I set up coffee dates with, you know, people who worked in B.C., people who worked at startups, people who worked in major tech companies and was kind of trying to sort of suss out like, how do my skills I have these two masters in completely irrelevant fields. How do they transfer over? Do they transfer, does anything transfer over? And and in each of those conversations, I would sort of test out, you know, the the story of who I am, what’s my background, what am I interested in, in tech.

And you could kind of see you’d read the reaction and see like, oh, OK, don’t bring up the two masters. They’re not helpful. In fact, they may be held against you, you know, so you sort of you start to learn from those conversations, both like how you and what you have to offer is landing in the industry or with these other people. And then also I would talk to a bunch of different types of people that I could understand.

OK, well, what is this project product manager do? What does a designer do? And. I think a lot of people are nervous about having informational interviews and can feel guilty about taking up other people’s time, but what I’ve learned is people love to talk about themselves. So if you reach out to someone and say, hey, I really admire your career path, I’m trying to figure out my own, I’d like to learn something from you and how you did it.

Yes, people tend to I mean, many people are very busy, but if you’re prepared and have good questions, people tend to enjoy that kind of conversation. And so I think that also gave me the momentum to keep going until I felt like, OK, you know, it was through an intro of an intro of an intro that I got my first job in Tech.

Dan

I love it. What you shared there is just so practical.

I just want to highlight that for listeners, because many listeners are in this place where they’re thinking about their next thing and trying to figure out how to explore it and taking the informational interview, you know, as a as a really serious tool in your tool belt, I think it’s a really, really valuable path forward.

I’m curious. I mean, what you’ve already said is really, really helpful, that people love to talk about themselves when you’re genuinely interested. But even just to get a little bit more granular on that when you’re reaching out because you did this right. How do you start that conversation?

How do you send that email, like just to even give people even a template, I guess, for like approaching people about setting up a coffee date or a zoomed date, I guess, in today’s day and age?

Ximena

Yeah, yeah, sure. It kind of goes back to doing that research up front. So figure out why do you want to talk to this person? And having a couple of really good reasons. I relied heavily on my network. So if there was a company that I was interested in or a role that I was interested in learning more about, I would go to LinkedIn. I would see who I know who’s connected to somebody at that company or to that specific person.

And then I would draft that person an email and say, hey, I’m really interested in talking to so-and-so. I’m specifically interested in learning about X, Y and C, and I think I could bring a lot to the conversation for ABC reasons. You know, maybe they’re hiring and I’m interested in exploring that. Or, you know, maybe they have some point of connection that I want to talk about, whatever it is. But if there is something that you can kind of offer, it’s good to highlight that sometimes you can’t.

And you’re just like, I really just want to meet this person and learn more about them. Those are going to be harder to get, but it is possible. And then that person would generally pass that note along. And if if you did a good job kind of highlighting, here’s why I want to talk to you. Here’s specifically what I’m interested in. And I mean specifically, like if you get a generic email that just says sort of like, hey, I really like your work, do you have time for me to, you know, can I pick your brain for a coffee?

The answer’s probably gonna be no. Right? So you kind of have to show some of that work along the way. And then I would rely on, you know, your network and just kind of work that as well get the connection to the connection to the connection until you get there.

Dan

That’s awesome. Such such great advice and such a good, actionable strategy. And I know from receiving this kind of emails being asked, someone can pick my brain is never the best way to get in.

But just to have done your research and to have those clear questions makes a ton of sense. Imagine as you were going through this process and having these interviews, I guess I picture in my mind kind of like this slowly circling in more and more towards what it could look like for you to make this transition.

What was, I guess, to go from like here’s all of tech and everything that’s out there to, you know, being a user researcher, what was that process like?

Was it like, you know, you started broadly and just became, you know, just following your curiosity in these interviews, in the different roles that you would hear about or just love to hear just more of that kind of filtering process?

Ximena

Yeah, it was a little bit of that. You know, I had some ideas about things that I probably wasn’t going to either be very good at or like very much so. You know, it helps to know that also. But I became more and more interested in user experience. And so it was kind of circling around that or product management for a while. And really, the thing that helped me narrow even further was experience. So eventually I was hired as a sort of non-technical generalist at this eight person startup.

It was a huge education and startups and tech and entrepreneurship and gave me exposure to a bunch of different kinds of roles. So PMing marketing, community management. And that’s where I did my first user research sessions. I was kind of taken under the wing of the designer there and I realized, oh, this is kind of interesting. This is I think I could do more of this, but I also wanted more training. And so that was my.

Entry into it, I kind of got a glimpse of it, a taste of it, and it was also eventually the reason that I decided to leave, which is that I wanted that training and the sort of like big tech capital B capital T experience, which was the reason for my next not just career move, but also geographic move because I moved to California after that.

Yeah, yeah.

So if I’m hearing you right, this was like a move for you to to dig in deeper, to use your experience and how to like what’s the methodology for user experience research and to get yourself into a company where you could get the kind of training that you want in that realm. Is that right?

Yeah, because I had done I felt as much as I could at the startup. When you have the sort of big generalist role and you’re doing everything and you get to do a little bit of everything, it’s great. But it also means that you’re doing everything right. And so I had started to take classes on the side. So I took like a user experience design class at General Assembly and maybe like an illustrator class or something at MIT. So I taking a couple of classes on the side.

So it’s starting to narrow it and just felt that in order to take that to the next level, I had to go somewhere where I could really focus on that full time.

Dan

I love it.

Yeah. So for people who aren’t familiar and before reading your book, I was not that familiar with what the process you what the day to day of a user experience researcher looks like. Could you walk us through. What does that mean.

Ximena

Sure. So the role of a user experience researcher is to understand how users, people who use the product to use an app or a website or even non users, people who might use an app or website, how they think, how they feel, how what routines they have, what habits they have, and how a product might fit into their lives. So a good example, and this is where I started getting my user research training was at LinkedIn.

A good example is, you know, understanding job seekers. So LinkedIn is a platform where you’ve got job postings, you’ve got a network of professionals. You can learn about others experiences, what a job seekers need from LinkedIn. And so that might be a large research question, a pretty big like, oh, OK. So you’re a job seeker, OK? Are you an unemployed person? Are you in between careers? Are you opportunistic? So you’re not really looking.

But, you know, maybe somebody could interest you. A user researcher would interview a bunch of people and try and get to the bottom of that question, often through one on one interviews, sometimes through group kind of workshops, sometimes by doing creative exercises. Like I might say before you come into the session, create a collage of, you know what? You imagine your next role to be things like that.

And so you’re really trying to draw out like sometimes pretty deep, possibly challenging things to talk about, especially when you talk about things like career and aspirations. Those can be pretty sensitive depending on the person. And so that’s an example of a type of question. Sometimes the question is much smaller, where it’s something like, hey, we have this new landing page where this new feature in the app and we want to know if people understand it. So then you might walk some people through and you can kind of observe and see, oh, they missed the button to do, you know, X, Y, Z, or they didn’t understand that that icon means they have a new message waiting for them, etc.

. So that’s kind of an example. The types of questions we might answer.

Dan

Yeah, I love it. It sounds like I mean, quite a breadth of, I guess, the kind of information you’re after from, you know, motivations and desires to like just really like did you move your mouse or put your finger on that? But when we wanted you to or whatever it might be.

So, yeah. Really, really interesting. You do like a lot of psychology, you know, would go into this as well, especially, I guess, with the desire and kind of the emotional part of getting people to talk about things that are sometimes hard or sensitive.

Ximena

Yeah, exactly. And a lot of it is creating a space where people are willing to share those things. It’s easing into the conversation. So you don’t start with the hardest question that you have. You start with something easy, start with a warm up. That’s also the reason to do creative exercises. I’m a big fan of those because it makes things easier for people. You know, if I don’t ask you straight on, like, what are your career aspirations or what’s your ten year plan?

Yeah, that might be intimidating to some people, but if I say, hey, bring in some images that represent, like, you know, some of your ideas and aspirations for the future, well, then we can talk through them one by one and go from there.

Dan

Yeah, yeah.

It gives you a softer entry point into the conversation. I love it, I love it. About to at the time of this recording release, a new book that’s very, very tied into your job, your work, which is the title of it, is Listen Like You Mean It Subtitles Reclaiming the Lost Art of True Connection. I loved just so much of what you offer in this book about just hearing people. And I mean, I think it’s more than just hearing just seeing people and creating the spaces, just like you mentioned that you do.

How do you make a space that invites someone to bring more of themselves into the room?

I guess it’s just kind of my take away from it. I’d love to hear just where did this idea come from for you? At what point did you decide, yeah, I’m going to take, you know, my experience and the research room or outside the research room, but in years of research and translate it into conversation in interpersonal engagement. The long question, but maybe the simpler way to ask it is where did this book come from and where did it start for you?

Ximena

Sure. Yeah. So this book is very, you know, as you mentioned, tied to my experience as a researcher in terms of wanting to translate those lessons, learned those techniques from the research lab into the real world. The driving motivation for me, for really anything that I write is to be helpful. So if you look back at some of my past work, it tends to be here’s a strategy you can use in the workplace to collaborate better or here’s, you know, something to think about as you become a manager or as you start a new job.

And they’re all based on experiences that I’ve had or that other people have had where I have kind of observed something and thought, OK, there’s a technique here that can be harnessed. There’s something that can be shared, that can be useful. And so the focus on listening is definitely kind of part of that larger mission of creating something that other people can productively use in their lives. And with listening specifically, it was actually something that I wrote an article on maybe seven years ago.

I think I was I was pretty early in UX and I just realized, wow, there’s a lot of there’s a lot of these techniques that would be pretty effective in the real world. And so I wrote like maybe like a top 10 or something like that. And it did really well, which somewhat surprised me, but it did really well. And then I kind of set it aside and I was really digging into my career and, you know, growing in that way.

And I was fortunate enough to have an agent reach out to me a couple of years in. And she asked, have you ever thought about writing a book? And I said, Oh, I’m so flattered.

But, you know, I’m kind of busy.

Dan

Yeah. Yeah.

Ximena

So, you know, which I was just, like, totally floored by. But, you know, and then and then a couple of years later, I hit a point. I think by that by that point I had I had been at LinkedIn, Twitter, I was at Pinterest, and I’d been kind of doing the big tech thing for a while. I was managing a team and I felt like there was maybe a little bit of a lull happening in my career where I was kind of trying to figure out, OK, do I invest more here or do I kind of just enjoy that I know the ropes enough that I can relax a little bit.

And I decided that maybe it was time to pick up this other project and to to write a book. You know, when things start to slow down in one area of your life, that creates opportunity in another area. And so I return to that project and I I had, you know, done more thinking about listening. And I you know, I had a bunch of ideas that I thought I could write a book about. But honestly, once I started thinking and writing about listening, I just realized, wow, I actually have a lot to say on this topic.

And I think part of it is, especially right now in this moment where we’re so culturally and politically divided where we are, our lives are so mediated by screens and technology, it felt even more crucial to help share on this topic of listening, because I think so many of us feel just a little bit disconnected from each other. And for me, ultimately, that’s the goal of becoming a better listener, is to strengthen those relationships and to feel less alone in our experiences and to feel more connected.

So, you know, it was a little bit of like the timing was right. And I also just realized, you know, something that I was passionate about that I really wanted to share with other people.

Dan

I love it.

I love it.

And I couldn’t agree more, you know, whether it’s a disagreement about the political views or, you know, just how disconnected we are because of technology that we can because of technology, but because of the pandemic. Thankfully, we have technology to to to help us. But I think there’s a lot of places. Or we’re either we don’t even have the opportunity to connect and really hear each other, but then also because of, you know, really charged or topics that they can get in the way of that true connection.

And so I do think it’s a it’s an important, important conversation because I think it’s an important thing for us to be thinking about how can we be better listeners? How can we truly, you know, hear and see each other?

I know. So you’ve written a whole book about this. I can’t just ask you.

So, OK, so how do we do it? If you could do that in ten minutes, we wouldn’t need the book. But maybe you could just could you give us just some highlights or just some like where do we start if I’m thinking about becoming a better listener for the first time in my life, what are the first things I should be thinking about?

Ximena

Yeah, so I think and this may seem counterintuitive, but I actually think the first place to start is looking at yourself. There’s this idea that, you know, listening is you just kind of show up and you’ll end your career. It’s about the other person. It is about the other person because you want to get to know the other person. But in order to be an effective listener, you actually have to do a lot of self reflection and build some self awareness about how you show up in conversation.

And so a lot of what the book does in different ways, you know, in various chapters is kind of turn a lens inward for you to kind of see what you’re experiencing in conversation. And so just some examples of that. I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that curiosity is really important in order to be an effective listener. But what people might not do is think about, well, how curious am I as a person? Write like and how do I how do I respond when there’s a topic that I know I’m not interested in?

So, you know, for me, that’s sports. Sorry, sports fans. I’m not that interested in it, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t listen in a conversation about sports that that actually means it’s going to be extra hard for me. And there’s probably a topic for everyone. Or maybe it’s a company, you know, a certain company that you’re just like, OK, I’m going to start to shut down now. I’m going to just kind of tune out.

I’m going to nod and smile now. And so you have to kind of start to recognize, well, what are those topics? What are those moments? The company, the situations, the environments, the time of day, you know, all sorts of factors how your body is feeling that might cause you to tune out or that might cause you to have a running dialog kind of in your head or that might set something off for you emotionally. I call them hot spots.

There are these sort of like sensitive areas and we all have them. And some of them are obvious to us and some of them are not. And some of them are like, wow, that was a really sexist comment. Like that’s going to get me going. And others are like, oh gosh, for whatever reason, I get sad on my birthday and like this conversation about birthday planning is making me upset, you know, like they don’t have to be rational, but we all have these spots and when they’re, you know, in the hot spot is activated, that also causes a different reaction in our ability to listen.

And so there’s lots of things that come up for us personally in a conversation. And the book tries to highlight, you know, ways for you to start to become in tune with that, whether that’s your ability to be curious or whether that’s your ability to stay present and not let that to do list run away with you or your ability to be patient. You know, so many of us, it’s very, very common. Our thinking about what we want to say next in conversation before the person has responded.

So they’re talking. They’re talking, really? Oh, I have a great anecdote to add to that story or. Oh, that’s just like the time when you know or that person’s totally wrong. I need to correct them. I’m going to interrupt, you know, and we don’t we don’t think about it. We don’t think to ourselves, I’m going to interrupt now because this person is wrong. But it just our mind gets ahead of us.

And so I think, like umbrella big picture thinking is. Understanding yourself is one of the best and most important things that you can do in order to be an effective listener and show up for other people.

Dan

I love it.

Yeah, I think the more where you are of yourself and all of these these know aspects of yourself, the more you can see when you’re getting in the way.

I guess when you’re  seeing and hearing and maybe welcoming the other person.

You talk a bit about the book, about the idea of projecting your experience on other people. And I’m curious for people, you know, who might not be familiar, that idea, that concept in psychology therapy, you know, the big thing that you therapists have to work with is when they’re projecting their feelings onto someone else’s experience. I guess just for you to share a little bit about what that means in conversation, what that can look like.

Ximena

Yes. Projecting is very common. It’s our way of relating to people because we want to connect with them. So we find something in our experience and projected onto someone else’s. So if someone says it can be as you know, this happens in your personal life or even at the workplace, if someone says, let’s say at the office, like, oh, I’ve got so much work on my plate, you may wish to empathize with that and wish to connect over that and say something like, oh, me too.

Don’t you love being busy? Right. Like, let’s say you’re just somebody who thrives off of being busy. Yeah, me too. Like, I’m so energized by it. And the other person might be like, well, well I’m stressed out by it, you know, like that’s just a totally different reality. And because we are trying to connect with them in our own way, we’re trying to find something that relates, you know, we can actually push the other person away.

And this can happen in small ways and it can happen in big ways, like when someone’s going through grief and you try to understand what their their experience is, you know, maybe you compare inadvertently the death of a loved one to that time you lost a pet and you really, really loved that pet and it was so dear to you.

And that might be true, but it’s maybe not the best way of relating to somebody in that moment. And we’re conflating our experience with the other person’s experience. And by virtue of doing that, we’re not actually letting come out the other person’s experience.

But it’s very, very common. It happens all the time. And it’s it’s something to kind of try and catch when that’s happening. 

Dan

Yeah, that’s good. When you’re engaging and listening. Well, how do you know when you’re doing it right. I mean. Right. Not the right word that. Does it sound like the right word but I guess. Yeah I guess. What are some of the markers.

Ximena

Sure. I think a lot of it comes down to how you feel or how the other person feels. Right. Like if you walk away from a conversation feeling like, well, that was a waste of time, probably something was missing. But if you walk away from the conversation feeling like you learn something about the other person, about how they see the world, or you really just started to understand them in a different way, that’s a pretty good sign.

And then there’s also things in, you know, during the conversation that are cues, right? It’s like what is their body language saying? If they started out stiff and kind of, let’s say, like arms crossed over their chest, do they loosen and relax by the end? Do you listen and relax by the end? Is that something that you sense in your body as well? And then also thinking about did you go deeper in conversation or did you kind of just stay at the surface?

Did you cover all the basics, you know, whether like news without actually going anywhere, or did you go a couple steps deeper to understand the other person and to start to sense into their experience?

Dan

Yeah, that’s hard work, especially when, as you’ve already mentioned, like when it’s was I was really passionate about or wants to talk about something that you’re either that’s an emotional hot spot for you or something you disagree with. And they have a different view on it.

And it’s a very emotionally charged political things are tend to be like that or just like it’s just going to dull, like you said, with sports for you.

So how do we go from I’m really I want to tell you all about the football game, and you don’t really want to hear about the football game to making that a really meaningful connection point without just changing the subject.

Ximena

Right. Yes. So this is where connecting questions come and this is where being active in conversation comes in. So it’s not that as a listener, you become this vessel for the other person and you’re just kind of absorbing everything that they say. Right. And just. Yeah. And internalizing that, you know, now you want to start. To ask questions that help you go past the surface. So let’s take the example of of sports then. So in my case, not that interested in it, but I can find something interesting about it if I try.

So I might start to get some interesting threads. So if you’re talking about, you know, such and such a player, I am so bad at sports. I can’t even, like, make this a good anecdote. But if you start to talk about a player or some game, then I might start to ask, like, OK, and where are these people from? And when did you first start watching football? Oh, is this a family tradition?

Like how does this fit into, you know, how you celebrate the Super Bowl, whatever? And the reason I might go there is because I’m interested in people. I’m not really interested in sports, but I’m interested in people. So I want to know about you and your relationship to the sport and how that became a part of your life. That might be one angle, right? There’s lots of angles you could take, but so if I hear football, I don’t have to shut down.

I can hear football. OK, where what’s what’s something that I can get excited about that you can get excited about too. So I’m not kind of like running away with the conversation. I’m going a little bit deeper and I’m getting to know you in the process.

Dan

Yeah, I love that.

I think it comes back to in the book I think you talk about as a listening mindset and you mentioned it here as you’re talking about just being aware of your own self in conversation, but about curiosity, humility and empathy is being is sort of the primary values that you need to cultivate in order to really do this.

And I just hear that so much like your curiosity about even if you’re not that curious about the sport, you could be curious about the person’s relationship to the sport or what it is about that team winning or losing that excites them or whatever it might be or their story. You know, I think that’s a really good, good direction to take those boring topics, I guess, or less less engaging topics I’m curious about. I did not get all the way to the difficult conversations part of the book yet.

I will because this is a part I’m really interested in.

But how do we deal with topics that are that are hard to bring up, hard to talk about, and where there are like where it just might go make you angry because you just see things so differently.

And I think, again, politics is what comes to mind here, because we’re just looking in such a politically divided country at this moment.

But how do we here how do we listen? I think it’s such an essential question because of that division.

I think it’s the only way forward for us without getting into the individual issues themselves.

Like, yeah, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on listening to and hearing experiences from people who are just see things, you know, black and white, completely different than you.

Ximena

Yeah. And I think we’re all being asked to do this more and more, whether that’s at home or the workplace or the classroom, wherever it is, even though it’s uncomfortable, it’s our reality. So you may as well learn how to navigate it.

Yeah. And yeah.

So I mean, I think there’s a couple of things that you can do. One is, you know, if this is a conversation, you know, you want to have or need to have, I think it can be a good idea to think about your intentions ahead of time and also communicate them to the other person. So it can be very tempting, especially with things like politics, where we have these deep seated beliefs that have developed over time and manifest in different ways.

It can be very tempting to come in like, you know, pretty strong and with the goal being of changing the other person’s mind.

Yeah, and that’s not going to create a path for empathetic listening because that means that you don’t have humility. Right. You assume you’re right in the other person’s wrong. You don’t have curiosity. You’re not particularly interested in hearing their point of view because yours is already right and you don’t have empathy. You’re not interested in understanding their experience. So but it’s very easy to, you know, even say, no, no, I’m not trying to convince this person.

But then you wind up, you know, trying to do exactly that, in essence. So some of it is about setting that intention ahead of time and also communicating that and just saying, like, hey, you know, I want to have this conversation. I want to understand you. It’s probably going to be uncomfortable. Are you OK with that? Like, are you open to that? And here’s my intention. Why? You know, that’s something that I’ve had to do in years of research sessions where you talk about something really personal and you just have to kind of say ahead of time, like, I’m going to ask some questions that might sting a little bit.

Or might bring up some feelings, you know, but yeah, my intention is not to provoke you. My intention is to understand you. And so just setting that intention for both parties, I think can be helpful and just help things start on the right foot. Yeah. And then again, you know, trying to ask questions, understand the other person’s experience. I tend to find that focusing on kind of why you’re personally connected to something can be more effective than spitting out policy facts.

Policy is very hard to connect to, like an individual perspective. But if you have a personal story or if the other person has a personal story about why they believe something to be true or why they value something that becomes easier to connect with. And then the other thing I’ll say is sometimes these conversations do get really hard. And, you know, there may be a point where you just think, oh, my gosh, I can’t be friends with this person or work with this person.

And it can be helpful in those moments to remind yourself to calm down and to try and calm your body with some deep breaths. It can also be helpful to think about the other person as a child. This is actually a technique that is used often in like couples counseling, like when you’re really mad at your partner, think about them as a child and like why they like, what are they feeling? You know, what do they feel as a five year old in this moment?

Right. And it just helps kind of humanize the other person again, which can be useful. So there’s lots of little things that you can do. And then the last thing I’ll say on this topic is that it’s also OK if it becomes too much and you need to end the conversation, you don’t this is not supposed to be like a self flagellating exercise where you kind of go in and you’re like, OK, civil conversation. I’m just going to keep plowing through.

It’s going to be uncomfortable, but everybody’s got a limit. And so if a line has been crossed or if you are running out of steam, if you are getting tired emotionally, physically, mentally, it’s perfectly OK to kind of gracefully exit and say, you know, OK, I’m actually I think I’m a little bit too charged right now to have the conversation that I want to have with you. Is it OK if we hit pause? Yeah, it’s better to do that than to kind of power through and wind up saying things that you don’t mean or you didn’t intend to say.

Dan

Yeah, great thoughts on all of that and just so important and so, so hard. But here in that, just an invitation to be mindful, to be aware of your boundaries and welcome to the other the views that we might not be as comfortable hearing. But I think that if we can set that intention ahead of time and approach those conversations, trusting that the other person is not there to just to make us angry or to to harm us, but to just to actually have dialog and to be heard, I think that a lot of good can come out of those difficult conversations.

Your book releases on March 30th, which at the time is recording, should have been just a few days ago or for a time of this releasing, rather, should be just a few days ago. So anyone who wants to find out more, please take a look wherever you like to buy your books. Listen like you mean it – Reclaiming the Lost Art of True Connection. I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read so far. I can’t wait to read the rest.

Just as we begin to move towards wrapping up, zoom out just again here to think about your work as a whole, your career, where you’ve been, where you’re going, and think about what’s the legacy that you hope your work will leave in the world.

The big question.

Ximena

It is a big question. I hope that my work will have been helpful and useful to other people in their lives and that, you know, especially since I’ve been thinking a lot about listening in particular, that people will feel more connected to each other. And I hope that people feel seen. I think I hope that in everything I do, whether that’s writing or managing or doing research, I hope that I can understand people and help guide them in a way that feels right to them.

Dan

Yeah. Yeah. Why is it important to you? Why is that particular piece of being seen?

Ximena

Because I think so many people aren’t. I think it’s very common for us to only be seen by, like, really, truly seen and known by a handful of people in our lives. Some of us are lucky and, you know, feel very seen all the time. But I think a lot of us have maybe a small group of friends or family with which we can be ourselves and kind of fully step into the good and the bad sides, you know, the stuff that you hide, the vulnerable parts.

And yeah, I think when you’re seen and understood, you just get to step into yourself so much more. And when you get to step into yourself in that way, you get to do more and do better and do greater. And whether that’s in work or, you know, personally in terms of your relationships and your friendships. So it feels really important in a very human way. And I think it’s so easy, especially now, to think that you’re being seen like on social media, like, oh, yeah, people know me on social.

Yeah. But that’s not really the same thing.

Dan

Yeah.

Mhm. I’m curious for you especially you talked about the beginning of being a Renaissance woman, how you think about words like calling and purpose and meaning when it comes to your work.

Ximena

Yeah, I believe in the idea of a calling, but I also believe that it can take many different forms. It’s sort of like, you know, the idea of having one true love. I think you find a true love, but there may be more than one person out there. It just depends on who you find and who you invest in and build a life with. And so I think about a calling somewhat similarly in that, yes, I am called to help people and to communicate, you know, knowledge that I think will be useful.

But it can come in in all these different forms that we talked about of, you know, research, writing, illustrating. I’m interested in audio. So maybe later down the line, that’s something that I start to play around with. So it’s sort of like the meaning is there, but it can take so many different forms. And that’s why when you look at my career path and I think many people’s career paths, it isn’t straight and narrow.

It kind of does take these twists and turns, but it’s kind of always circling around the same thing. Around the same purpose.

Dan

Yeah.

Yeah. I couldn’t agree with you more that I often talk about your calling is not a job, but your job is and it can be at its best as an expression of your calling.

Ximena

Exactly.

Dan

Yeah. I think you’ve said that even better than that. Just fantastic.

Well for people who are listening that want to follow along with your work or connect more with you than any specific action steps you’d like to invite them to.

Ximena

Yeah, I mean, I’d love to have folks pick up a copy of the book and just start to apply that to the relationships in their lives and hear how that’s going. I’m all over the Internet, so drop me a line. And then I also have a newsletter where I write about tech and creativity and career. So if any of those topics are interesting, I’m in ximena.substack.com.

Dan

I love it, I love it. I’ll make sure to put links to all of that in our show notes so people can connect with you further there.

Thank you so much for the time. Thank you for this book. I’m excited for people to read it and hopeful that it will move us all towards more. Yes. Connection, better listening. So thanks so much for being with us today.

Ximena

Thanks so much for having me.

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