Make an essential relationship upgrade: Learn to listen well!

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Ok, I hear you, you probably think you already know how to listen. Most people I meet think the same. What can be more basic than listening? You have been listening since before you could talk, right? You have heard a lot about listening and you think you know all about it, right?

Well, even if you think you know it all in theory, my question to you today is: are you really doing it? Do you really listen to the people around you?

Perhaps you have heard the story of the manager that was shocked to learn a key employee was leaving. When asking a fellow worker “Why didn’t she say she was unhappy?” The coworker responded: “She did. You just didn’t listen.”

Or perhaps you have heard about a friend’s wife who just left him. He is perplexed because he didn’t see it coming. Yet, his wife said she tried repeatedly to tell her husband that she was very unhappy and he wouldn’t listen.

How unfortunate! You see, the thing is that you may hear words coming our of someone else’s mouth, but are you really hearing, understanding and internalizing what the other one is saying? 

Have you communicated that you understand what has been said and what, if any, actions you will take? 

Do you follow up on what you heard?

Feeling valued creates a deeper level of trust and security at work [and at home], which frees us to spend less energy seeking and defending our value, and more energy creating it. In a world in which our attention is increasingly under siege, better focus makes it possible to get more work done, in less time, at a higher level of quality. —Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath in Harvard Business Review

If you think about it, one of the best ways people feel valued is when another person actually listens to what they have to say.

Listening may sound easy, but it is not. Think about it for a moment. How do you feel listened to? What signals does a person sends that makes you feel they are listening and taking in what you are saying? How do you show others that you are listening?

Three types of listening

Level 1- Superficial listening. You are hearing but not giving your full attention to the speaker, because you are busy coming up with your own response, and/or relating what is being said to your own experiences.  You can easily interrupt and interject your own thoughts, without listening to the end, or truly understanding. As a result, the person speaking rarely feels connected or valued by the listener.

Level 2 - Objective listening. Just the facts. You hear facts and can relate them back to the speaker. It’s superficial because it hears the facts but doesn’t listen to the emotions. This is usually taught as active listening. But it stops short of making a real connection with the speaker.

Level 3 - Deep listening. As the Chinese portray it, listening is listening with all of you: your eyes, your ears, your mind, and your heart. It’s about understanding the whole message and context, beyond just the words. You pay attention to what is said, but also to body language, expressiveness, tone of voice, and emotion. This kind of listening allows you to emotionally connect with the speaker.

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said. —Peter Drucker

What people want most from their leaders is to feel that they are understood. That their circumstances and opinions are heard. That their point of view or situation is appreciated. When you are that kind of leader, they will most often accept your decisions and directions.

What your partner wants most from you is to feel connected and loved. That you take the time and make the effort to hear their concerns, points of view, and thoughts.

A leader who listens well, connects and is empathetic, will have the respect and following of his/her team.

A loving partner who listens well will contribute to the connection and happiness in the relationship. Nothing says “I love you” more clearly than listening and showing your understanding and sympathy. 

5 Ways to be a better listener

Julian Treasure, in a TED talk, shared 5 ways to be a better listener. Practice them every day and you will experience a listening upgrade.

1. Silence

Give your ears a break and spend 3 minutes a day in silence (or as quiet a place as you can find). This will let your mind reset so you can better hear and notice the subtle sounds around you.

2. The Mixer

How many different sounds and conversations can you pick out in a noisy environment? Take time to focus for a time on each one, tuning out the others.

3. Savoring

Sit back and enjoy listening to some mundane, everyday sounds. The washing machine or dishwasher, the neighbor’s leaf blower, a baby crying, the birds chirping. What do you notice about the sounds? Are there any patterns that emerge?

4. Listening positions

Change your listening position to what’s appropriate for what you are listening to: -active/passive.


This is an acronym for Receive, Appreciate, Summarize, and Ask. 

When you listen, you want to Receive all the information (words, intonation, body language).

While you are listening you can Appreciate and acknowledge that is being said.

When you are done listening, you can then Summarize what you heard, both facts and emotions.

You can then Ask if you heard right and ask any clarifying questions.

When you become a better listener, your team will appreciate you more, and your wife and children will feel your love and be more connected with you. You will be more caring and emphatic. People will trust you more and follow you because you have created a dynamic of caring and they feel you know them.

Julian Treasure’s TED talk is less than 8 minutes and worth watching. I want to invite you to watch it now.

What can you do today to start listening better?

Contact Dr. Ada today to learn more about how to become a better listener. You can also ask for a free infographic and recording: Conversation Guidelines