How can I listen better?

Let’s all start with the assumptions that better communication is the key to our ability to be more productive together, that better communication requires conversation and that Susan Scott is right, « the conversation is the relationship »; listening is the ultimate mark of respect, key to learning, the heart and soul of engagement, the basis for true collaboration, the engine of superior execution, the sine qua non of innovation; and that listening is profitable. It increases our influence.

How would you challenge these assumptions?

‘What are the biggest causes of breakdowns in your relationships?’

Choose between the following:

a). My own listening and attitude

b). Other people’s listening and attitude.

92% of people think ‘other people’s listening and attitude’ are the reason for breakdowns in relationships.

More often than not, when misunderstandings or conflicts occur amongst people, most people think it’s someone else’s fault.

“If only they had listened. If only they communicated things more clearly. If only they understood me better.”

What if you truly believed, ‘people and relationships don’t get stuck? Only thinking gets stuck.’

What then would be the implications for you?

Our responses, behaviors and actions are generated by our own thinking, not someone else’s.

Whenever we have an issue or a problem with someone else, is it not, by definition, caused by how we are thinking about them? Just because we get on a train of thought, doesn’t mean we have to stay on it. When you realize you’re the driver, you get to choose when you stop.

When we bring out memories and past experiences with someone into our conversations, don’t they limit how we relate to them? Rather than being responsive to the moment, we’re listening from the past and from our own ideas of who we think they are – not who they really are.

We can listen and hear beyond the limitations of our own ideas and beliefs and beyond what we already think we know. We can listen from the unknown. Every moment is a new, fresh moment. Only our thinking makes it old.

Debating is a win/ lose mode of interaction and the antithesis of a collaborative, connecting conversation. Rather than fostering trust and opening people up, it tends to move people the other way towards a more defensive and closed way of being.

When we debate, the focus is to assert our point of view. We listen to confirm what we already know, to prove ourselves right or the other person wrong. People often pursue being right, at any cost. Being right makes us feel validated, superior or better, but it makes others wrong. Our ego will go to some lengths to avoid being wrong. The ego has no humility.

Debate posturing as dialogue is not conducive to creating and fostering cooperation.

It is important to know the answer to the question “Why am I talking? (W.A.I.T), and equally important to know the answer to the question Why Am I Listening? (W.A.I.L).


Listen to confirm (reactive) versus Listen to understand (responsive)

Listen to confirm (reactive)  

When we listen to confirm what we already know, we’re listening from the past. We’re in a reactive mode. We are bringing ‘old thoughts’ into a fresh, new conversation. Listening in this way acts as a barrier and stops us from hearing something new that may advance things in a useful way.

Listen to understand (responsive)

When we listen to understand, we choose to park what we think we already know. We open ourselves up to be impacted by fresh and responsive thought. We step into the unknown, we become curious. In this way, we are fully available and responsive to others.

Listening gives you access to everything you need in communication. It connects you with your common sense and wisdom. It allows you to get out of your own way and forge deep connections with others.

Listening – Are we listening, really?

Unfortunately listening is often thought of as a burden we impose on ourselves for the benefit of someone else.

Is it really?

In actuality, listening is really a gift we offer ourselves … to live and work free of prejudices, biases, and false assumptions.

 « Listening requires more intelligence than speaking. »

Listening is the first step in strengthening teamwork, a powerful strategy to optimize our time, and exponentially increase our productivity.

Again, listening is the ultimate mark of respect; the heart and soul of engagement; the basis for true collaboration; the engine of superior execution; the key to learning; the sine qua non of creativity and innovation. Listening is profitable. It increases your influence.

Poor listening ability is a common affliction, but creative thinkers can hardly afford to suffer from it. A good listener will have curiosity, that all-essential desire to learn that requires a degree of humility, the key to having an open mind. For if you think you already know it all, or at least, if you believe you know more than the person to whom you are talking, you are hardly inclined to listen. The next requirement is to control your analytical and critical urges. For, your first priority is to grasp fully what the other person is actually saying, especially if it is a new and therefore strange idea to you. Have you a clear picture of it in your mind? A hearer only hears what the other person is saying; a listener discovers the real import of their words.

Listening is a powerful indicator that informs us about how we regard others … as people or as objects.

Most people, if they listen at all, listen to respond, not to learn.

Have you ever talked with someone who was so present with you that it unnerved you?

Someone whose full attention was locked on you, their focus so completely yours it made you feel as if you were the only person in the world? Someone who made you feel really seen, and really heard, in a way that was both wonderful and a little unsettling?

The skill of listening is essential to transformational leadership.

How long will someone follow you if they never feel their voice is really heard?

How do we do it?

The word listen contains the same letters as the word silent.

What do you listen for?

Are you listening to you – meaning, for an opportunity to interject yourself into the conversation and place the focus on you?

If you are the conversation will not be powerful for the other person; a missed opportunity to connect and influence for you.

That’s called Level 1 listening.

Level 2 listening is different. What do you expect the difference to be?

It is a very present kind of listening. In level 2 you are never thinking ahead to what you want to say next or what you’re going to ask. You stay in the present moment and trust that the conversation will unfold organically and become what it needs to become. There is no need to control it. This requires humility and faith. Because you are paying attention, what’s important and what needs to be said in response will emerge naturally. So you make sure you clarify the facts. The other person will feel understood.

In level 3 listening you also pay attention to the facts, but also to the vibes, the ebbs and flows of the conversation; to what’s being said and to what remains unsaid; to its emotional tone and content. You key into the emotions expressed and unexpressed, you name them and explore them.


Get together with one other person.

Take a moment to think of an interesting event, something that matters to you.

Explain and describe what it is for 2 minutes, and why it matters so much.

Take turns.

As you listen, think of nothing else but what you’re hearing. Explore the other person’s story. Open up all your senses and be receptive to what the other person’s opening up to show you. Feel their energy. Notice the animation in their body, tone and voice. Try to be aware of what it feels like to be the other person. Be alert to everything. Do not interject yourself in their story.

When they’re finished, debrief the activity and let the other person know what the experience was like for you.

It’s hard, but being able to do this may just change our lives!

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I write in the margin. J'écris dans la marge.

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