A newsletter on progress-space research and audience development for cultural leaders. One reader calls it, "sometimes funny"

We can wear a few different hats when we're trying to understand the people we hope to support.

  • Solution hat: What can we learn from this person to help us improve?
  • Progress hat: What can we learn about how this person wants to improve?

Both hats are helpful — But we tend to wear the solution hat more because it makes us look fabulous or it makes us look terrible or… Well, it makes us see ourselves, which makes it more seductive.

In today's Progress Space meetup in the MAP Community, we dug deeper into our theme of Listening. I shared this clip from an interview to illustrate the different hats we wear (edited and shared with permission):

We listened to the recording and then broke it down:

  • The speaker (interviewee) is describing a special moment when the tadpoles are hopping.
  • The listener (interviewer/me) redirects the speaker to the topic of trust.
  • The speaker complies and starts talking about trust.

In other words:

  • The speaker was in a state of flow and specificity.
  • The listener didn't recognize that as part of their agenda and redirected the speaker.
  • The speaker complies and reverts to surface-level conversation — generalizations and statements of fact.

If the listener were wearing their Solution Hat, then they did the right thing in this interview.

Solution Hat: "We're not here to learn about tadpoles. Let's get this person back on track talking about their experience with [ORGANIZATION]."

But, if the listener were wearing their Progress Hat, they'd see this exchange as a failure.

Progress Hat: "Listen to that specificity. Is nature important to her? Is nature an important part of her purpose or goal as a supporter of this historic site?"

Again, neither is wrong. But both hats are worth wearing — even if one isn't always as flattering.

As always, reply to this email to let me know your thoughts, or leave a comment on this post.


P.S. Our spring MAP & Tell is next Thursday. We'll discuss the role of Listening in understanding audiences and practice together some of the listening techniques we've picked up during this past season in the MAP community. You can sign up here→

illustration of tadpoles


Sign in or sign up to join the conversation.

Enter your email below to get a log in link.

You’ve successfully subscribed to SuperHelpful Letters
Welcome back. You’re now signed in.
Great! You’ve successfully signed up.
Your link has expired
Success! Check your email for magic link to sign in.