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Thinking about Listening

We have heard for years and years that listening is the key.

“Oh ... it’s the mainstay of communication and the very foundation of human interaction,” they say. “Why, it’s the linchpin of sales”, “the bedrock of negotiation”. “It’s the primary ingredient in conflict communication”. “It’s the backbone of effective leadership.”

Yeah, yeah ... but HOW DO YOU DO IT???


It is natural to listen to things. Turn your attention in any direction and you can hear things. You can even concentrate on some noises at the expense of other noises (focused attention). It works the same when you’re conversing with someone. You can hear what they say. You are listening to them, even in conflict. BUT, that’s half the problem. You listen “to” them. Our systems allow us to shut off certain senses when those senses are constantly stimulated, in a process called “Sensory Adaptation”. Your olfactory sense ignores the cologne you put on this morning and your sense of touch forgets that you’re wearing a watch. So, too, our hearing can begin to diminish the sounds around us. If you stop to listen right now, you may notice that you've been ignoring many sounds. This can happen when we Listen TO someone.

We listen TO them complain. We listen TO them ramble on and on. We listen TO their strangely considered rationale, we listen TO their arguments and we listen TO their individual beliefs and perspectives. But, at the same time, we listen TO our own thoughts and biases, our judgements and preferences. We spend a lot of our listening energy formulating our own responses and waiting for an opportunity TO speak again. We listen while we figuratively roll our eyes and sigh. And this is the problem and the reason why I submit to you that ...

Listen2 is no longer sufficient and I recommend you upgrade your listening software to Listen4.


When you Listen4 you focus your mind to scan FOR hints of the emotions driving their thoughts. You Listen FOR opportunities to discuss common ground – where you can establish stronger rapport. You Listen FOR chances to use what, in negotiation, are called “Minimal Encouragers”, such as “oh yeah”, or “uh huh”, or “go on”. You Listen FOR chances to insert statements of compassion, such as Acknowledgements, Validation and Empathy Statements. You Listen FOR areas that need clarification and you Listen FOR clues that there are underlying triggers far deeper than the ones being exposed. You can also Listen FOR opportunities to insert some influence on the other party, by helping them see other perspectives and other options.

In addition, Listen4 gives you a better chance to recognise where you should say absolutely nothing and let the other party continue to gather their thoughts. Often it takes some time for a person to dig into their true feelings and expose their true agenda. That may simply be because trust has not been firmly established, yet, and they may be (subconsciously) discovering if you’re genuinely on their side. Sometimes the drivers of someone’s emotions are deeply ingrained and it simply takes them some time to get to them. They may never get to them.

When you Listen4, you can also better establish when the other party does not have genuine motives and is being deceitful or manipulative. The communication strategies required to manage these people are quite different to those used in managing people who have a genuine grief or who are suffering in some way. If you Listen2 you may not pick that up and you may not respond effectively.

Listen4 is beyond active listening. It is purposeful listening ... listening with intent, focus and purpose.

Are you ready to update your listening software???


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