FOCUS: Listening

Mental Models, Personal Mastery, Systems Thinking, Team Learning

I know that you believe you understand what you think I said,
but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I said.
Robert McCloskey

How do you Listen?

We’re not automatically good listeners.  To listen well is to still our mind, loosen our perspective and open our heart. 

When we listen and do something else at the same time, the speaker often feels slighted.  When my daughter Lisa was young, she would go to the Sunday movie and come home excited to tell me about it.  I’d listen as I cooked or did some other thing, trying to stay interested by asking a question or injecting a comment.  She’d say, “I think you’re not listening.  Maybe stop what you’re doing so you can hear better.”  What I missed was that she was giving me herself – her feelings, her response to things, her view of the world. 

Over time, I practiced listening more carefully, being really present.  I could remember names and details of people’s stories, but I got a great listening lesson in a coaching session with Thomas Leonard.  “You’re listening too hard.  Can you listen more softly?” he asked.  I was paying so much attention to the details that I could miss the big picture or the person.

Many years ago I was about to go on a trip to Israel.  My friend Sandra said, “When you come back, come and really tell me about it…every little detail.  I will listen happily for hours.”  What an invitation!  And I did.  I told story after story while she listened.  Her listening was an enormous gift to me.  She smiled as I left, thanking me genuinely for “a visit to Israel.” In recent years, I have been immensely comforted by friends willing to listen to me go on and on about a loved one who has died. We cannot overestimate the need of those grieving to reminisce, to tell stories, to talk and be heard.

Brenda Ueland says, “When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.  And if you are a listener, it is the secret of having a good time in society, of comforting people, of doing them good.”  Deep listening is a win-win for both speaker and listener.  

Learning About Listening from the Deaf

It startled me to receive a profound insight into good listening from the deaf.  Bruno Kahne, a senior consultant at Airbusiness Academy, was developing a leadership program for Airbus.  There he met an executive whose youngest son was born without hearing.  Through this connection, Kahne became familiar with the culture of the deaf, their visual, intensely expressive language.  He realized that many deaf people have developed communication skills more thoroughly than hearing people, which made them uncommonly effective at getting their point across.  In a radical experiment he began using deaf people as communication consultants for corporate clients.  Some of the simple, but oft-ignored lessons for good listening that came from the deaf are:

  1. Look people in the eye.
  2. Don’t interrupt.
  3. Say what you mean, as simply as possible.
  4. When you don’t understand something, ask.
  5. Stay focused.


  1. How often do you listen as recommended above by the deaf?

  2. How do you pay more attention to the other person than to the voices in your own head?

  3. How do you listen to what is not being said?

  4. In what spirit do you listen? (To get an answer? To learn? To argue?)

  5. What can you decide not to listen to? (The news? Gossip? Advertising? Your negative, inner voice?)

  6. To what person in your life do you feel moved to listen more fully?


Please join me for a 45-minute telegathering to explore the power of good listening in more depth. Call Thursday, December 13, 2012, at noon (11 Central, 10 MT, 9 Pacific) 1-218-862-1300 PIN 276583. No need to register - just call at that time!

Reach me: 1-888-907-HOPE (4673)or e-mail I am a personal and executive coach and would be happy to offer you a complimentary coaching session by phone. Each month FRESH VIEWS focuses on a single topic, relates it to one of the five disciplines of a learning community, and offers a coaching tip and a follow-up telegathering. Please forward it to friends and colleagues. My purpose in writing FRESH VIEWS is to nurture, prod and encourage readers to think and talk about these topics with their families, friends and colleagues. Mine is only one view. Multiple conversations may deliver us to insights only hinted at here. Such a process sustains the vitality of learning relationships, learning families, learning organizations and learning communities.

Sharon Eakes | 720 Maple Lane | Sewickley, PA 15143

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