How to Listen & Change Your Life

The secrets for connection, for resolving conflict, for empowering your self and Others are found in attentive, open minded, open hearted listening.  If you start to listen well, you will change your life and the lives of others.  This is not too bold a claim.  It is not over-reach.

Listening is a gift and it’s a powerful tool for bringing about positive shifts in people towards themselves and others.

As a colleague, leader and manager, you are stronger when you listen.  As a teacher, parent, doctor or healthcare worker, you are wiser when you listen.  As a workmate or friend or lover, you are more valued when you listen.

Listening can prevent problems; it addresses risk, it builds insights, connection, understanding, respect and loyalty.  It is a creative process because both parties are changed by it.

Listening Skills

Good listening takes intention, time and effort.  It means that you are receiving information on the other’s feelings, their message and clarifying understanding, checking that you have received and interpreted the story correctly.

You aren’t listening to argue, debate, disagree.  Or to establish your own social dominance, your own professional standing, or your personal power.

When you are in the process of active listening you are not required to offer any evaluation, opinion, advice or logic.

Here are some easy steps that will refresh your foundation skills for quality listening.  These are behaviours we take for granted and do unconsciously.

There are some core skills to listening and they are essential building blocks for great relationships.

But! You won’t succeed unless you actually practice these skills.  Apply them with curiosity. The more aware you are of how you listen, the better you become as a listener and the more problems you are able to solve, by hardly saying a word!

Secret 1: Attention

 “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself”
 Henry Miller

Want instantaneous results? Pay attention. Some feel that this is so obvious that they skip it. That’s a mistake.

I was returning from lunch one day, to a corporate workplace.  Going up in the lift with me was one other woman whom I did not know but I had seen around the building.  I became aware that she was agitated and I said, carefully (because I did not know her) “Are you ok?” 

She immediately poured out that she had just come back from taking her daughters, aged three and five, to the doctor, where they were having ongoing treatment for the physical consequences of having being sexually abused by their father.  She was distressed that she could never see the same doctor, there was no continuity of care.  She was very angry about the abuser; she felt responsible, she felt guilty and distressed. 

And then the lift doors went ‘bing’ and slid open.  A little stunned, I made a quick decision, suggested we sit a moment in an unused meeting room near the lifts. 

She continued for about 30 minutes to share her frustrations, grief and anger.  I said very little as I had absolutely no idea what I could say. I just acknowledged her feelings and what she said.   Then she suddenly thanked me for listening to her, got up and left to go back to work.  I found my way back into the lift and returned to my office in a fairly sober mood. 

I never saw or spoke to her again but I did not forget that conversation which changed me, a moment of genuine listening.

Research has shown that just giving your total attention to the Other, draws a powerful response from that person.

Giving your whole attention, improves connection with people, immediately.

If you do nothing else, do this.

Try it out with one exchange. The adoption of “attending” practice, soon turns into real engagement as you connect with the Other for a quality interaction.

When you give attention, they share more genuinely and more openly, the quality of relationship improves.

Be genuine.  Give authentic interest.  Be real.


So, what about when someone is difficult.  What about when they have views and values and language and actions that offend me?

How could I give attention to someone who is hard-to-like?

Think of it as a learning exercise.  This is a willing and conscious experiment in taking your Self to a new place in practising relationship.

Not much is required of you, except to park your stuff for a while, adopt curiosity or interest and maybe, kindness.

Or at least being willing to leave some space for the possibility of understanding difference, if you can’t quite make it to compassion.

Show the Other that you are interested in this conversation and therefore, in them.  If they feel safe, this attention encourages tentative expression of what is on their mind.

Respect that.  Sometimes amazing things happen.

The thing is to create a space where they feel valued, simply because you are interested, and willing to give your attention.

  • Deal with Distractions
  • Notice Your Body

Deal with Distractions

Obvious, right?  Good manners.  Ditch the task at hand, the earbuds, the screen.

Giving my complete attention to the person who is speaking means, well, I have to pay attention to them. Entirely.

Often so inconvenient!

If I am committed to finding the magic of listening, I need to stop what I am doing; right now.

Give attention completely to them: eye contact, body attentiveness, ears tuned, mind open, heart willing.  Listen to their words, get their tone, interpret the body language.

Be open to what is going on for this Other person.

What if you can’t do that?  Because inconvenience certainly happens.

We live with so much going on, so many distractions and pressures that it is easy to miss the important moment amongst the gossip, daily logistics, general conversation and info sharing.

It is often a challenge to give attentiveness; right now.

If you just cannot give attention at that moment – say so.  Make a specific time to catch up with them.  If the subject is sensitive, they are emotional or it’s a personal matter, take the conversation to a place where you have less distractions or more privacy.

“I can see this conversation is important Ayesha and I can’t give it proper attention at the moment. I have to finish this report for a deadline this afternoon. Can I help you quickly or can this wait till tonight?”

“Jan I really want to hear this story.  I can’t listen properly just now as I need to study for my exam in the morning.  Can we talk tomorrow afternoon?”

“I can hear this is important to you. I have to prepare for a meeting right now.  Can I make a time to help you with this tomorrow?”

I have found that time often unexpectedly opens up when we make a choice to give our attention to someone who is in need of us.

Make each person feel that they are individually Someone That Matters.  

Don’t swamp them with intensity, but do stop what you are doing, look at how they are presenting themselves, listen to them consciously.

See what happens when you do.

Notice Your Body

Our body language includes our physical and unspoken response to the Other.   Your facial expression and body response in posture and gestures, all send out a message.  People respond to that.

We can in normal communication, pick up something of what is going on for an Other by the way they hold their posture, their facial expressions, their gestures. We often create an explanation for that, make an interpretation.


Do what is appropriate for the situation. Nod, look interested, lean in. Use gestures that relate to what the other person is saying rather than as a distraction.

We also hold in our bodies the emotional experience of our lives, the impacts and instances that were important moments.  This influences our response to Others, acting from our own stories of what to expect from particular people, from particular situations.

Be alert to what is happening for you.

Our posture when listening is very powerful – and very telling, if we are not really interested.  When you adopt an ‘interested’ posture, you might be amazed at how things do become more interesting!

Test this yourself.

Secret 2: Shut Up

The next secret to connecting is this: be silent. Yes, indeed. Stop speaking.  Be quiet.  Say nothing. Tune in. Shut up your thoughts.

You are listening!  In good listening, your job is to stay out of the conversation so that the speaker can unfold how they see things, feel things, interpret things.

Your job is to receive their story, to understand it.  Watch out for the urge to divert and distract with your own agenda or experience or judgement or advice.

This is not about you.  Just feel the relief of not having to think of what to say, or where the conversation should go or whether or not you are smart enough.  You just have to pay attention, look interested and shut up.

Easy, easy, easy. Invite a conversation and try these skills.

  • Listening Noises & Attitude
  • Allow Silence


Listening Noises & Attitude

One powerful way to keep the conversation going without too much effort at all is to use non-verbal listening noises. Sounds that show you are still with them.

The odd grunt, meaningless comment or nod of encouragement to the Other as they share their story, their perspectives and feelings is a good thing.

Noises and words that offer reassurance that you are with them here, without adding too much else.

“Yep“; “Ok“; “I see”  “Go on..”

“right”; “bad luck”

“no kidding”; “oh no”

“mmmm”; “great”

 “tell me more about that…”  “what else?”

“that’s disappointing…”

These are valued and dead easy ways of being a good listener.  (As long as you are actually still listening, right.)

Tone is a give away if you are not being genuine, so keep it real and true.  It’s about being curious.  It’s about leaving a non-critical space for the story and then considering it, like a brand new thing.

Being quiet yourself also gives you some space to concentrate on what they are saying and how they are telling their story.  Feel the story.  Sense into your deeper perceptions around the story-telling.

Practice empathy, interest and non-judgment.

Allow Silence

“The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.” 
 Alfred Brendel

Funnily enough, this means allowing space in the conversation – beyond not speaking yourself.  It is about allowing reflection, mid-conversation thoughtfulness and contemplation.

Don’t think that silence means nothing is happening.  It is a very valuable part of any conversation.

Silence draws out information, builds trust and make space for insight and connection.

It leaves a gap for out-loud thinking through the issues, the implications, the feelings.  It allows a person to fully explore and express what they are experiencing or thinking, sometimes at a much deeper level.  It can help to prevent misunderstandings.

It gives you space to absorb what is going on in the whole story you are exposed to as they communicate.  It elicits more of the facts, more of the feelings and more than you could probably imagine could come out of an everyday conversation.

You become the sounding board.

For many, when silence happens they start to panic and start thinking: I need to keep the discussion going here.  Uh-oh, there is an end of a sentence coming up here.  Oh no, now I have to say something. Oh crap, now I can’t think of anything to say!  Actually they stopped so it must be my turn.  I must say my important thing, right here in this little silence, right now, while I think of it.   I haven’t got time to sit here in silence and wait for them. Oh no will they think I am stupid or don’t have an answer if I say nothing here.  You know I can’t stand the silence.  Oh no, silence; that’s so awkward.

It’s not awkward.  Silence gives the other person space to reflect. It prompts them to speak.

If you ask a question and wait quietly, it tends to increase the value of the answer in the end.screenshot-2016-10-12-15-25-17Research found that when a teacher asked a child a question, waiting one second led to an answer of seven words. Waiting for three seconds led to an answer of twenty-eight words.

Seriously! Wait, patiently without judgment in your tone or body language with an interested expression in your body and facial language, nodding if necessary and maintaining eye contact.

You will sometimes be amazed with what you are told next.

I was having a conversation with an elderly lady who had been married for fifty years.  She spoke to me at length about how she met her husband when she was seventeen, what she thought of him at the time, how they hung out with her sisters and their boyfriends and where they all went on outings over several years. 

There was a lot of social detail. “Then we got married,” she said. The conversation moved on to colourful descriptions and funny recounts of her young children.   No detail about the wedding, the dress, location, day, reception: no stories at all.

The gap in her usual detailed style, fairly screamed. “Where did you marry?” I asked. There was a long pause.  “In a registry office.” Ok. I asked nothing more and nodded, looked non-judging and sympathetic. After a moment of silence, she went on.  Yes, there was a pregnancy and there was drama all right. 

He resisted marrying her because he said he didn’t want the responsibility of a wife and child. An ex-sailor, dating her for four years, he still had to be convinced to marry.  They didn’t get him to agree, till she was well into her sixth month.

Fifty years on, it still hurt. 


By allowing the silence, you give the person space and responsibility to speak.

This can be valuable if there is some reluctance to raise an important issue and in hesitating, they are hoping to allow an interruption and to let that point slide by unspoken.

If you speak at that moment, you distract them from their reflection, from stating what matters.

Try this as an exercise for one day.  Decide that today is the day to practice leaving a gap, adopting a silent listening role in conversation whenever it seems sensible to do this during your day.

Practice: breathe, pay attention, nod, maintain interested eye contact, sit with silence.  Its potential is extremely powerful.

You do need to be disciplined and committed to practicing silence.  Get comfortable with it.

It is a very powerful tool to have in your kitbag with conscious practice to master it.

Secret 3: Say What You Heard

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” 
 Stephen R. CoveyThe 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

When we can reflect back what we heard, we acknowledge that we understood.

What is acknowledgement?  It’s when you show the Other that you see and hear them.

You “get” what is happening here.  You demonstrate that you are receiving their message.

Acknowledgement is a very powerful listening tool.  It doesn’t mean agreement – it just means you heard them.   And it is the closest thing we have to magic in our conflict prevention kitbag.

It gives you time to get your thoughts together, to line up your emotions, to get your immediate response into your awareness and control.

You know, instead of rushing off to start a war, defend your Self, your views, your work, your values, you can take a breath and just check that you heard what they meant.

You might be surprised how often this takes the tension down a notch or removes it because you just misunderstood something.

The listening skills below are a range of ways to give acknowledgement.

  • Acknowledge Emotions
  • Reflect Meaning
  • Repeat Key Words & Phrases
  • Summarise & Restate

Acknowledge Emotions

Acknowledging emotion is a powerful sign of listening.  If you do nothing else, do this.  In many situations it serves all parties.  It is an excellent way of dealing with high emotion.

If there is a lot of anger and distress in the room, and you respond with acknowledgement it makes a safe space for the Other and for you.  It gives some time to get your own emotional processes in control.

Emotions are critical in human expression during conversation.  It can be hard for some people to pick up on emotions rather than facts.


An emotion is a fact but it is physically expressed rather than stated – although it can often be stated as well.

“I hate this project.  It’s complicated, under resourced and I am worried I don’t have the skills to solve the problems on time.   It’s going to be very embarrassing if it doesn’t work. And I might lose my job.”

You could usefully respond to the expressed facts here with any one of these words: “…complicated, under resourced, under skilled, time, redundancy.”

But that isn’t the real message here.  What is the emotional vibe under this?

Have a tentative go at stating back to them the feeling you hear or observe. If you mistake it the Other will correct you.

“You are feeling embarrassed?” 

“No, I’m feeling scared that this will be the end of my career here.”

Scared: this is the feeling.  The closer you are to correctly naming the feelings and recognising the degree of intensity in those feelings, the more helpful the Other will find your listening.

Try this – as an experiment.

Reflect Meaning

Research has shown that adopting the practice of restating back to the speaker, what they have said to you, is highly effective in preventing conflict or misunderstanding.

It’s also a great way of acknowledging and recognising that person.

To do this well, you really have to be tuned in to absorb what the speaker is saying.   When you are reflecting back what you think they said, meant or inferred – and you get it wrong, they will be super quick to correct you.

So let them clarify and then again try restating it, until you really have the right message.

Reflection techniques stop the practice of speaking over an Other, of interruption, of finishing people’s sentences or thoughts, of competing, of having to think up stuff to say.

Listening in this way you are not responsible for their problem and nor are you agreeing with their opinion and you are not expressing approval of anything.

You are just giving back an indication that you have received their true message.  This is a sign of respect.

We all have our own take on what is Truth. To create meaning we develop a mental set of boxes and a system for stacking and connecting them.

Unconsciously we put ideas, beliefs and people into boxes and label them, as shortcuts to help us make faster decisions and survive.

The boxes we each use are different and can change.  This makes our unique weirdness.  We ignore some idea-boxes. We ignore gaps between our boxes.  We ignore that we don’t have all the boxes.   In skilled listening, we start to see that all stuff is in boxes.

This frees us to start to play with new possibilities, to move them around or even think outside them.

If we want to be innovative – we need exposure to difference. There is value in looking at something different to yourself.  Challenge makes us accountable.

There is value in explaining why and what.  Not just so you can understand but because the act of looking outside your own perspective, your own beliefs and culture, gives you a greater lever for creativity and appreciation and responsibility for your own weirdness.

A great listener can reflect back to the speaker the points of the conversation that matter.  They can pick out those parts that seem to hold the most weight or importance.

Selecting what to reflect does not matter so much but you might try for those aspects that you think are the key bits of the story.  Or those bits that you think could be the overlooked bits of the story.

Whatever you choose, will drive the focus of the conversation – so you can use this with the intention to lead, to teach or to influence.

Repeat Key Words & Phrases

Easy. Consider a significant or relevant word or phrase and repeat it.  The word you pick usually doesn’t matter too much.  When you first begin to use reflection skills, it can feel a bit stilted and tricky to use in a natural way.

Stick with it.

Taking two or three key phrases and restating them to the speaker is not hard.

Reflection is a powerful tool but take care to be thoughtful in this.

Don’t become a parrot or a robot.   When you use this with care, the speaker will take the conversation where it needs to go for them, whatever word you select.

Summarise & Restate

Summarise the headlines that you hear throughout the telling.  Wrap up the main points.  This is especially important when it is a rambling, repetitive story.

Stop and pull together the headlines of the story, as you understood them, or at least, the important bits.  Another method is to state the implied within what is told.

This technique is useful as a reflection helping the conversation to feel quite natural.

Restate in your own words what you think is the main point.  You don’t have to agree with the content to summarise what you think they meant.


 Speaker:       My mother is driving me mad.  She expects me to hold her standards of housekeeping and doesn’t understand that some of that is just not important to me.  She doesn’t like how untidy I keep my room.  I know where things are in my room.  I’m not living there all the time and I look after the areas I’m in, more or less. I hate arguing about it and that means I stay out when I would otherwise come home and she gets upset about that as well.  I can’t afford to move out though.

Listener:        You want to live at home without arguing with your mother.

Secret 4: Ask Good Questions

 “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t being said. The art of reading between the lines is a lifelong quest of the wise.” 
 Shannon L. Alder

One way of assisting a speaker and also our Self to understand what are the facts in a situation, what are the issues, what are the needs or fears underneath – is to ask questions in an enquiring way.

This is not an interrogation but an exploration to find what is really happening.

In any communication there are two levels (at least) to what’s going on. One is the surface content, data; the what.

In many straight up situations, these facts are all you need.  You are dealing with a shallow level of interaction – data, exchange of information, small talk.

On another level are unseen drivers, often unseen even to the person who is expressing themselves. Unseen factors that all humans have at some level or another.  This is the quality insight that is invisible until we make space for it.

Clues to this occur in tone and delivery, body language.   How the problem presents; how it is packaged or dressed.


A need not met.  A Fear being voiced unwittingly.

This is the underlying motive that the Other is working to have met.

For more deep rooted or repetitive issues more enquiry may be useful.  Curious, kind questions can be the key.

Our behaviours drive these needs but sometimes in puzzling ways. Our Self needs to be heard, recognised and appreciated.

We need to feel valued, involved and empowered.  The crazy thing about humans is that we so often behave in a way that will get us the opposite outcome to the one we really want.

Try to hear, see and understand the needs/fears behind the story.

A woman who was working on conflict solving with me said, that she really resented her partner for not putting the plastic-ware away properly.  It was left on the bench after being washed.  What was it that was upsetting about this? I began to explore this with her.

Over the next few minutes she told me, “I worry that he thinks I am the house maid and not his loved partner.  I worry that he is spending so much time at work.  I worry that our relationship is not as close as I would like.” 

Ok.  So the driver here is not about the Tupperware actually, is it.  If you solved that issue, there would be another one come up because the real worry hasn’t been addressed.

And, making critical comments about the Tupperware not being put away is probably not the best strategy to build closeness in this relationship.  We need to be in touch with our real needs as behaviour drivers if we are not to be unconsciously hijacked by them.

Questions are valuable tools.  They can lead, influence and inform.

When used well, questions lead the speaker into a deeper thoughtfulness about particular parts of their situation, experience or problem. Questions are an additional tool that helps you to understand what is important in the story.

When we’re focused on listening we are giving dominant attention to the Other.  Tone is important when you ask clarifying questions. This is not an inquisition, but an attempt to understand the detail.

Asking and applying questions is a whole area of learning, but enquiring strategically and with care provides you with the clues for important or particular parts of the story, without giving an opinion.

Questions can also be a brake on a conversation when they are used badly. Interrogation damages a sense of safety.

Avoid interrupting.  Ask only one question at a time.

When people are upset or concerned, they tend to jump between different thoughts and say things that contain bits of each of these thoughts.

When this happens, you can slow them down by asking key questions and help to organise order in the story telling. What happened, when, where, who was involved, why does this matter?

Through questions, you can help the Other sort what is really important about the situation.  Not advising.  Not arguing.

Use questions to gain more insight, or as a lead for the Other to consider implications that you might be able to see pretty clearly – but it will work out a lot better if they come to this realisation themselves.

Questions well used are a tool of great strategic influence.  Keep in mind the power of silence when you ask a question.

Let the question rest in the space until the Other answers it.

Questions can be effective listening tools.  Questions can be powerful influencers.

Secret 5: Listen with Heart

Another secret to really connecting is to be genuinely willing to give attention to the Other and hear them with care and interest.

Listen with kindness.

This is the true secret to great listening – it is the most important skill of them all.

That is, decide to Be Present, to pause your own agenda and give kindness and compassionate curiosity to the speaker.

This creates dialogue.  It creates space for Big Conversation – where space is opened for life changing moments.  It happens when you listen with your whole body and heart and mind.

It makes you stronger to be able to appreciate another in this way. The kindness factor builds the safety of the space.

Kindness comes from a place inside us.

It is born out of the ability to be kind to our Self.  If it’s a struggle to make space for difference and strangeness in an Other, then go back to exploring with curiosity within your Self, to understanding what it is you fear and why.

What makes you so uncomfortable with hearing views and perspectives that are not the same as your own.  How does this hurt you?

Part of the kindness challenge is this: to consider the Other as a true equal. We are often blind to the power and status differences that exist, especially if we are part of the dominant group about the place.

Those who have the privilege locally, often do not ‘see’ their privilege.  They do not recognise it because for them, it’s part of their life-wallpaper.

It’s there all the time.

This influences how we behave towards Others who are not part of the In-Group.

There are implicit advantages given to those who have social status, whether that comes through a title or job, money, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, education, language, religion or any other of the many ways humans dream up to differentiate the in-crowd from the out-crowd.

This isn’t political, although it sometimes becomes labelled as such.  It’s just a social fact. We like to hang with those who are like us.

Those who are not like us can be framed as different or not-safe – and we make up stories to justify that fearful feeling.

We can develop hang-ups about all sorts of things. We operate on our emotion first and then we rationalise it with a good story later.

For example, That Person did that crazy, wrong, threatening thing – and we label it as if it is a behaviour connected with a single characteristic of who they are and then all who have that single characteristic. Instead of it being one human having a bad moment: “All of Them are…”

The story rationalises and embeds the feeling about a whole group, not just one. It unconsciously damages our ability to practice kindness. Question your labels.

The emotional response is the thing that can build or destroy safe space for listening, for building relationship.  Genuine listening demands some recognition of these differences, some willingness to drop labels of status and power and converse human to human, equal with equal.

See if you can create a sense of equality and mutual trust; a sense of safety for ideas and opinions to be aired, without fear of vulnerability to attack or consequence.

We need to pause our own “stuff” to let go of judgment.


This is often challenging because often – we do not even see our own stuff, our “boxes”. We develop certain ways of interpreting the world around us, through our life of experiences and exposure.

Too often that thing we really hate in that other person is all about what I hate about my Self.  We project our own painful or unpleasant characteristics onto the Other and hate them for it.  Yeah, we really do that!

We are often more motivated to set the Other straight, to bring them to our way of understanding truth. This matters more than understanding why the Other holds particular views, the ones that we find so antagonising; threatening.  It’s easier to call them idiots, or worse.

But, there really are very few idiots in the world – everyone can rationalise and justify their place on issues, their actions and opinion.

Everyone is trying to be consistent. They are trying to keep safe.

Everyone is being worked by their emotional prompts and hot-buttons – often unconsciously.  Even you. Even me! We whirr into programmed behaviours when the Trigger happens.

If you are willing, look for your in-built values and opinions and confront your own prejudices.

You cannot change others or their values.  You can change your own response.  You can seek to understand. And this is powerful.  It starts with you.

This doesn’t mean that this will change every relationship – because at the end of the day – it does take two, to be willing.  These things are not neat and tidy.

Sometimes improvement just isn’t going to happen instantly if there’s a history of reasons to mistrust.  Or sometimes it may be too emotionally costly or too hard in a place where certain antagonistic or hostile cultures are entrenched.

This is reality.

But much of the time, shifting your personal awareness and your own response to communication so that you are more conscious of keeping a space safe for both parties, will make some positive difference.

By modelling the gift of listening, you are demonstrating that the speaker is valued, regardless of their views or values.

You model respect.  It is a strong connector to demonstrate this, rather than say it – sometimes it’s less awkward too!

When the relationship matters, better listening matters.  Listening is the core and key to connection.  Listening both to the Other, making space for their whole message and also listening within your Self for your own critical story and emotional response.

This mutual listening is the secret to building better relationship.

Have Some Fun!

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” 
 Brené BrownDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Connecting, conversing and collaborating to create solutions is easier when you use great listening skills.  Reading about how to do that however, is not so revolutionary as actually doing it.

If you do not play with these skills a little, they cannot help you.

When you practice, you learn about your Self and about Others.  See how it builds trust.  See how much more you appreciate and understand.  Notice how you listen, when you listen.

See how much more you get told when you listen. Then, honour that.  Honour it with confidentiality, with appreciation and compassion.

There is a need for personal integrity in every relationship that matters. Bring respect.

When you hear views and values you don’t like or agree with or approve – notice how you feel and if you are willing, stick with the practice.  Hear why they hold their views – what experience shaped them.

You are not agreeing with someone just because you hear their opinion and restate it.  Listening to this different set of values, ideas and perspectives is not a threat to you, in itself.

Set this fear aside, if only temporarily.  This is your challenge.

Be courageous.  Be curious.  Be compassionate.

Listen even when you disagree, when you do not like what you hear, or you disapprove – notice if it is much harder.

But do it anyway.

The hardest part of listening is not so much the skills themselves, but the self- management that is needed to put them into practice.

We are heavily impacted by our own internal talk – it fires up our feelings, stories, baggage, prejudice and our memories.  We use our Self all the time as our point of reference, checking everything against our values, views and versions of experience.

Always, we need to be safe.  We need to feel materially and emotionally safe.


Another secret: you are the strongest influence in your own world.

When you model good communication behaviours, this is remarkably contagious. It makes a respectful space for problem solving.

In truly reaching an understanding of a different and perhaps weird Other person, you will have some keys to what and why they are unique; you will find it much easier to appreciate the benefits and opportunities and wonderfulness in their weirdness.

Who knows – it might even work in reverse.  They might even find your weirdness a little interesting.  That is a platform for all sorts of good things.

Practice quality listening – every day.

When you are consciously building up your practice, pick one of the elements of listening skill and practise it for a day.  Just one.

For example, pick silence and see how much you can sensibly use it in your conversations for one day.  Or try another of the basic skills and give it a whirl – for one day.

Be conscious of your own responses and have an intention of improving a relationship.

Or try working with just one person.  Practise listening only (not giving your thoughts or observations or opinions) for five minutes.

Nothing of your own views or thoughts for that five minutes – make it all about them.

Be alert to how demanding it is.  Observe how many times you have to stop yourself from telling your own experience, from giving advice, from providing some observation.

If your efforts fall over, don’t worry about it!   This is about learning.  Just be aware of it, and have another go with the next conversation.

Do this with a spirit of fun.  Explore, experiment, notice the results, try again when it falls over.

Go exploring the stories of the everyday people in your life.

And notice your own feelings, your own response, your own stories…not even to change them! Just start to become aware of them.

In summary:

  • The best way to learn about yourself and others is to go and practice.
  • Practice giving genuine attention.
  • Experiment with engaged silence.
  • Be alert to your own internal thoughts and resistance.
  • Notice your nodding, smiling and use of encouraging noises.
  • Attend to the whole message of the speaker including the feelings and any gaps.
  • Try reflecting key words, phrases.
  • Practice a sum up.
  • Ask key questions that help the Other and yourself.
  • Experiment with restating your understanding of “Why this is Important”.
  • Notice the nature of your listening attitude. Notice your thoughts. Notice your own emotional response, if you can.
  • Consider the results you experience in practicing the gift of listening.

You do not have to learn to use all of these practices at once; one isn’t better than another.

Pulling all of these practices together so that they become a comfortable part of who you are, a part of your particular and unique personal style, should be your aim.

With practice you will be able to use all of these skills in a natural manner and grow a reputation for being wise and a good person to be around.

The secrets to connecting with Others is to show interest in them, to give them recognition and space for expression.  This is a powerful change agent for the person who Speaks and the person who Listens.

And to really connect with an Other, you do need more than to have the technical stuff down.  It also involves being willing to give something of your Self into the exchange.

Attention, interest, kindness, compassion.  Presence.  A willingness to drop the hang-ups and barriers that get going inside us, the internal judgement and commentary.

The skills mentioned here are not complicated but they are challenging to do well, to practice genuinely, with awareness, every day. 

And seriously, some days it just won’t happen.  It’s the way we are.

But setting a goal to do more of this, more often – or to know how to pull back and shift gears when things start to get tense and escalate – if you do this, it will change who you are and your relationships with others.

It will change the way you see your Self and others.

The rewards of really connecting with other humans – are incredible.

Copyright 2016 Saleena Ham


This was written by Saleena Ham for your personal use and guidance.  Please do not copy or replicate this entire report for your Website, Blog or Social but I would be happy if you quote a paragraph, using quotation marks (” “) and fully credit Saleena Ham using an active link to for the complete article.