In one of the New Yorker’s reminiscences of J.D. Salinger this week, they point out what an extraordinary listener he was. My mom is the same way–she can recount a conversation she had a week, a month, a year, a decade ago with astounding detail. I didn’t inherit this skill unfortunately. For me, I have to consciously stop, focus, and ideally make notes.

Difficult though it is, it’s worth it. In every phase of the development process, it is so important to stop talking and start listening. For instance, what happens in the morning when the mail is being opened? Each check that arrives often is a great window on the collective knowledge of the staff. If you listen carefully you can often find out a complete giving history for that donor, when the last check arrived, who should write the thank you.

Questions don’t count as talking. Ask tons of questions and find out what is important to the people you serve, your donors, your boss, your staff, your colleagues. The answers you get will make every next step easier.