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Provision #334: Listen Openly

Laser Provision


Listen openly. Don’t just listen to confirm what you already know, understand, and believe. Instead, be open to the possibility of being touched, changed, and transformed. Deep down, in your heart, you want this more than anything else. So listen openly and make it so.

LifeTrek Provision

How often do you listen to someone or something with a stated openness to being touched, changed, and transformed in the process? If you are honest, the answer is probably not very often. The older we get the more we become set in our ways. We support the president’s policies or we don’t. We believe in the power of prayer or we don’t. We follow a standard operating procedure or we don’t.

From the technical to the theoretical, there’s a certain calcification that comes with learning and life. At any age, we possess a body of knowledge that makes us more or less inflexible. The younger we are, the more likely it is that we are open to learning and trying new things. After all, that’s our job • to listen to our parents, go to school, and play with our friends in order to master the business of life.

But once we graduate, hopefully with a certain level of mastery, the more likely it becomes that we walk around with a “been there, done that” attitude. We surround our interests, attitudes, and values with an increasingly protective wall of defensiveness and cynicism. “There’s nothing new under the sun,” is an ancient wisdom that comes to characterize the way most of us approach life and listen to others as we get older.

The only time that shifts, for most of us, is under duress. We have a moral code that precludes the legitimacy of gay relationships, for example, until we learn that a best friend of 30 years, with whom we have great trust and respect, has been gay for all that time. Then we are forced to reconsider our position, to review the literature, to talk with others, and, perhaps, to change our view.

Or we receive an evaluation at work that suggests we need to improve some aspect of our performance or behavior. Then we are forced to reposition ourselves as a learner in the organization and in life. We may seek additional training or coaching in order to do better. If we succeed, we may get that promotion and move up the ladder. If we fail, we may become even more closed to trying to learn new things in the future.

To find people who are open to learning new things and to changing their stripes from the cradle to the grave is certainly the exception rather than the rule. We may give lip-service to lifelong learning, but seldom do we assume that this will require us to change very much about what we know, who we are, and what we do. When change of that kind happens, people may find it disconcerting.

I remember hearing of a prominent pastor who preached a sermon that apparently contradicted something he had said ten years earlier. A parishioner recognized the shift and called the pastor to account. Without so much as batting an eye, the pastor replied, “You’re absolutely right. I’ve changed my understanding. Ten years ago I was wrong. Now I see things differently. I hope you don’t think it’s a crime for your pastor to learn new things, to grow, and to change his mind when the Spirit moves.”

Few of us have the confidence to admit we are wrong about much of anything, much less a pastor responsible for “protecting and defending the faith.” The more important it appears, the less likely it becomes that we are open to change. Even science, dedicated to the unfettered exploration of reality, has to go through a “scientific revolution” in order to give up its most cherished understandings and beliefs. It takes much contradictory evidence before the body of knowledge begins to shift.

Perhaps this is part of the reason I find the coaching community so refreshing. Here is a group of people dedicated to learning the best practices in human evolution, even if that means changing our own core interests, attitudes, and values. There are no sacred cows here, as we seek out the inspiration, strategies, and connections that make life better.

This truth came home to me afresh this past week as I spent several days attending the annual meeting of the International Coach Federation in Denver, Colorado. Talk about a rich and heady time, with people leaning together into the winds of change, just put more than 1,300 coaches under one roof for several days. There’s no telling what you’ll come away with. It is an exceptionally creative and responsive mix, as my experience over the past five years has come to suggest.

One way to describe what makes a gathering of coaches so special is that everyone listens openly. There is a stated willingness to change, grow, and learn rather than to hold on to established beliefs, practices, and conventions. It’s not that coaches fail to lift up and assert opinions of their own at these meetings. On the contrary, that goes on all the time. But we do so with a remarkable openness to what others have to say, even to the point of changing our own opinion and approach. It’s not uncommon to go away with more than one “Ah-ha” experience.

This was certainly the response of many to the presentation of our keynote speaker, Dr. Paul Pearsall. He made a convincing case for there being two centers of intelligence in the human body: the brain and the heart. He is not speaking metaphorically here, but literally. Although the brain does more of the thinking and the heart does more of the feeling, Dr. Pearsall presented evidence of the heart thinking and communicating that was nothing short of eye-opening.

What do you make of crimes being solved by the clues provided by heart-transplant recipients? What do you make of a succession of suicides, all involving the same heart? What do you make of total strangers recognizing each other after heart-transplant operations? What do you make of non-local events, where a diseased heart in one room is able to start up the beating of a donor heart in another room? What do you make of trauma and transplant teams picking up the memories of the hearts they handle?

Most of us in the room didn’t know what to make of such new information, but there was widespread openness to not only the possibility of such heart-based intelligence but also to the practical changes it implies. If the heart is more than a pump, if it really has cellular intelligence and memories, then we need to learn how to listen to our own heart and to have heart-to-heart conversations with others. For some of us in the room, coaching will never be the same as we expand our awareness of how life works.

Pearsall makes it clear that to listen openly is the orientation of the heart rather than the brain. In his book, The Heart’s Code: Tapping the Wisdom and Power of Our Heart Energy, Pearsall notes that the brain is “self-protective and territorial,” “naturally pessimistic,” “constantly restless,” and “mortally phobic.” “It resists states such as deep meditation, uncontrollable laughter, arresting beauty, and prolonged sexual orgasm.” “It compulsively sticks to the task of trying to win ‘the human race.'”

The heart, on the other hand, functions along an opposite axis. The heart is not only willing to listen openly, it yearns for such heartfelt connections. Failure to pay attention to the way of the heart leads to what Pearsall calls “the neglected heart syndrome,” which generates not only negative health effects but negative social effects as well. A broken heart is more than just a metaphor. It is the literal result of a world that fails to listen openly.

To make this wisdom come alive, you may want to intentionally have at least one heart-to-heart conversation this week. You can have it with yourself, perhaps through journal writing. Or you can have it with a spouse, partner, or friend, perhaps through story telling. However you have it, start with a brief pause where you may hold your hand in front of your own or the other person’s heart. This is an outward and visible reminder of an inward and spiritual grace. In other words, it sets the tone of the kind of communication we seek to share.

Is this beyond you in all but the most intimate settings? Pearsall thinks not. He thinks we can learn to listen openly, even in the workplace and the corridors of political power. Indeed, he would argue that the future of the human race depends upon our learning to do so. That’s how important it is for us to attend to the intelligence and wisdom of the heart.

One of my favorite meditation techniques is to wear a stethoscope and to align my breathing with the sound of my own heart. Pearsall’s research gives me new insight into the power of this simple technique. It is one I commend to anyone who wants to make the shift to open, heartfelt listening.

Coaching Inquiries: What is your heart trying to tell you? How could you listen more openly to your own heart and to the hearts of others?

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.


Just got my Provision for the week and am blown away by the your connective listening. I often think about the special people who impacted my life in some way, usually on the fly, so I really enjoyed reading about your experience. How wonderful it must be to have them all show up at the same time in such a meaningful way. A quote by poet Kenneth Koch from “The World According to Mister Rogers” came to mind (off track but on somehow). “You aren’t just the age you are. You are all the ages you ever have been!” In a way, our lives are also made up of all the special people who ever have been.


Thanks for your last Provision on connective listening. I’d appreciate some reflection on the delicate dance of listening attentively to what your dialogue partner is actually saying and listening connectively which can sometimes lead us away from hearing the nuances at hand.


Thanks for your report on the New York City Marathon. I was on top of a double-decker sight seeing bus that turned at the bottom of Central Park. We had a very good view of some runners turning round the bend. I looked for you, but, as you said, there was not a chance that I’d see you. I’m happy and proud to hear that you did so well. Your Provision makes a lot of sense. 


Great story about the NYC Marathon. Glad you beat P. Diddy but I have to say I have a lot of respect for what he did and with only 8 weeks of training. Because he did it for others he was able to do it at all. I have a little saying that I came up with when I was doing fundraising with TNT. “The power of asking a friend to help a stranger.” That is a big part of what our country is all about. As for P. Diddy, I hope it was a life-changing experience for him. I know my marathons have been for me.


Thank you for your latest “inspirations” and congratulations on your marathon. I think that is quite an achievement. Last week I didn’t make it out of our church parking lot without falling flat on my nose and being carted off to hospital via ambulance. I was prayed for at the time, listened intently, calmed down, and immediately felt so much better. I got loads of calls and cards and felt VERY connected to caring people. My healing went well and a week later you’d never know anything had happened to me. What’s your next adventure? 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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