Provision #338: Top Ten Listening Keys

Laser Provision

We’ve come to the end of our series on the top ten keys for better listening. This Provision summarizes all ten at a glance, so if you’ve missed any along the way, here’s your chance to catch up. Enjoy! These keys open all the right doors.

LifeTrek Provision

For the past twelve weeks, we have been pondering the nuances of better listening. It began with Hurricane Isabel, which came roaring through our area like the wicked witch of the East. With winds howling and trees falling, it was hard not to listen. And then the next morning, before the chain saws started up, the silence was deafening. No vehicles. No electricity. No phone. No television or Internet. Just the stillness of the morning after. And the stillness had as much to say as the storm.

It took a lot of extra effort and cooperative people to get Provisions out, less than three days after the hurricane. But it went out right on schedule • maintaining our track record of regular, weekly issues since January 28, 1999. That’s almost four years and more than a 1,000 pages of material, packed with profound provisions for the trek of life. Some of you have been with us from the beginning, and we celebrate our continuing relationship.

Two and a half weeks later, after the clean up was well underway and many basic services had been restored, we turned our attention to the question of better listening. I had worked with this subject a couple years ago, but was not completely satisfied with the outcome, so I dove back in to see what more truth and light could be shed on the subject. Ten weeks later I have a new set of keys for better listening. Use them and you will be pleased with the results.

1. Listen Attentively. The series started by encouraging you to “just listen.” How many different things are you doing and thinking about right now? Is your mind clear, centered, and focused? Or is it cloudy, scattered, and distracted? If we want to listen well then we need to listen to just one thing. We need to pay attention to what’s happening now rather than to what happened in the past or what might happen in the future. We just need to “Listen up!” The notion that we can do more than one thing at a time is endemic to modern life. Multitasking is the way of the world. But good listening requires that we do nothing else. Before I coach someone on the phone, I sometimes strike a gong to get in the mood for listening. It assists me to put aside the distractions of what came before and to listen attentively.

2. Listen Actively. Good listening is active listening. There’s no way to pay attention and stay passive. To attend to what someone else is saying, or to what your own heart is saying, is to get involved. We end up asking questions, feeling feelings, making suggestions, and moving the conversation forward. But there’s a danger here, captured by the distinction between active and aggressive listening. To be active is to make a contribution; to be aggressive is to take control. Good listeners are engaged but never take control. They don’t assume that they know what the other person is talking about. They let people finish what they’re saying, and they weigh their words before responding. If you want to be a better listener, then recognize listening as a powerful stranger and the opportunity to encounter something new. It holds out the hope of new life and new creation.

3. Listen Reflectively. One of the simplest ways to be active without being aggressive is to use a listening skill known as reflective listening, where we paraphrase what someone else is trying to express. This can assist us to stay attentive and them to clarify what they are trying to say. In order to listen reflectively, we need to suspend judgment and bracket our negative feelings. The point is to rephrase what you hear, including the lines and what’s between the lines. Check out the words as well as the significance of the words. Listen for what is said and not said, for what is clear and confused. Draw the speaker out. Don’t change the subject until the speaker feels satisfied that his or her original thought has been communicated and fully developed. Think of yourself as a catalyst for learning rather than as a competitor for air time.

4. Listen Deeply. Reflective listening has a way of driving us deeply into the thoughts and feelings of another person. When we listen well, we end up connecting the dots between past, present, and future. Laura Berman Fortgang in her upcoming book, “Now What?, “calls this the “Golden Thread” that sticks out and weaves everything together. Gene Savage speaks of this in terms of story listening. When we listen deeply we hear the story of our lives and the lives of others. To hear these stories we need to listen on multiples levels. We start with the words and then tune in to the body, the spirit, the literature, and the environment. Taken together, these constitute a treasure trove of self-disclosure and discovery from which come those “Ah-ha!” moments of insight and grace.

5. Listen Slowly. It takes time and patience to listen deeply, and even just to listen well. We have to be quiet to hear what people are saying and, perhaps, to hear what they cannot hear themselves. When this happens we become powerful magnets for meaning, mystery, and magic. Unfortunately, most of us no longer have the time for such powerful listening. We find ourselves suffering from time-poverty represented by the African proverb, “Hurry, hurry is no blessing.” And so we scamper from one thing to the next, all the while sacrificing both our health and our growth as human beings. Don’t do that! We cannot be good listeners when we’re feeling impatient and in a hurry. We cannot pay attention and enjoy the conversation when we have other things on our mind. We cannot discover new wisdom and truth when our agenda takes us through life at warp speed. So slow down if you want to live and listen well.

6. Listen Connectively. This one came to me as I ran through the streets of New York City, for the NYC Marathon. I was seeing the names of people, held up by thousands of fans, when suddenly I saw a name that made me flash back to a significant relationship and time in my life. From that point on, I used those placards and signs to make meaningful connections. In many ways, that’s what all listening is about. We listen for and make connections that generate meaning, hope, and energy. When that happens, listening becomes a great source of comfort, support, and strength. Whether we listen to our own stories that way, or to the stories of others, connective listening can surprise us with its originality and power. It can assist us to see what’s missing and to change direction. This kind of listening comes from the heart, as we move beyond the obvious to the sublime.

7. Listen Openly. One of our readers pointed out a danger with connective listening: we can introduce an agenda where it doesn’t belong. We can make connections that have more to do with us than with them. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can, instead, be open to the possibility of being touched, changed, and transformed. We can listen less to confirm what we already know, understand, and believe and more to learn something new. Such open listening is certainly the exception rather than the rule. But deep down, in our heart of hearts, we yearn for this more than anything else. We want our identity, understanding, and vocation to grow larger than it is today. We want to become the kind of person who is open to new life, new ideas, and new energy. Listening with an open mind can make it so.

8. Listen Respectfully. No matter how open we are, there are still going to be times when we don’t agree with what we are hearing. Even the tolerant have trouble with intolerance! Nevertheless, it’s always possible to listen respectfully. There’s no need to put people down, ridicule their ideas, speak disrespectfully, poke fun, or be dismissive. This may be the way of the world, which evidences an increasing breakdown of civility and respect, but this is not the way of good listening. When we disagree with someone, we can start with reflective listening. We can suspend judgment and go looking for at least one thing we can respect in what the other person is saying. Finding a way to say, “I respect that you…” can make a big difference in the way the conversation goes.

9. Listen Appreciatively. Appreciative listening takes respect one step further. Respect implies deferential regard while appreciation implies high, positive regard. When we extend not only deference but high, positive regard, when we move beyond tolerance to consideration, we change the conversational climate and, as a result, the possibilities for growth and development. Remember that what you are hearing comes from a person of inestimable value and worth. Be open to learning new things and changing your mind. Approach life with curiosity and wonder rather than condemnation and ridicule. Be fascinated! This shift can make a huge difference in the stress you feel and the possibilities you discover. Finding a way to say, “I appreciate it when you…” is enough to cut through even the thickest ice and make way for genuine understanding.

10. Listen Intuitively. Intuitive listening is deep listening with a twist. Here we go beyond the rational mind and the five senses to listen with our “sixth sense,” the inner reaches of vision, voice, and vibration. Intuitive listening is less about the words we are hearing and more about the images, sounds, and feelings they conjure up. Some speak of intuition as “psychic knowledge,” but that doesn’t make intuitive listening the purview of an exclusive  few. Anyone can learn to listen this way and, like a muscle, the more you use your intuition the stronger it will become. Here too there is a danger: until we are freed from illusion, we may confuse ego or fear with intuition. And there’s a very fine line between them. Each can be compelling, directional, and transformational. But intuition represents true north while ego and fear can take us off course. It is the underpinning of inspiration. Unfortunately, intuition is usually the softer of the three voices. To listen intuitively we have to listen closely, carefully, and quietly. But this too we can do.

Coaching Inquiries: Are you a good listener? Do you want to become a better listener? Which of these ten keys do you find interesting? Are there any you want to practice today? With whom? When? How can you make it happen?

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.

I’ve been reading Provisions for the last several years. The rations are nourishing and in many ways, reinforcing of what I’ve picked up along the way from other venues. Your latest Provision on intuition is very consistent with “an old personal motto that I recently made up” to wit, “the big decisions in life are no-brainers, though they may be difficult to implement.” I’m in Sydney, Australia right now meeting with prospective distributors of our products. Of course, I won’t be able to come down here on a weekly basis, so many of my recommendations will be based on feel, intuition, and gut instinct. I’m not uncomfortable with that, and your Provision gives me even more comfort. Continue with your life’s passion and know that you’re dishing out great vittles!

You did an outstanding job with the topic of intuitive listening. I just love that topic, and there is so much education to be done around it! Thanks.

Happy Birthday! Thanks for the memories of your first 49 fruitful years. I read about listening intuitively with keen interest. I guess I always give thanks to God for leading me with the Holy Spirit. That’s why I also think of an “intuitive thought” as the beginning of “miraculous action.”

Heartfelt congratulations are what I would like to extend to you. To use your own, ever inspiring, words: May your life continue to be filled with goodness, peace and joy. I would like to add to this the wish that you remain gifted with the inspiration you have so abundantly shared with us.

Happy Birthday, Bob! Your reflections on disillusionment and passion are worthy of more time and wisdom than I’ve been able to invest so far, but I hope I’ll get back to you later. Keep on celebrating life!

Congrats on one of your most heartfelt provisions … and Happy Birthday! Writing on the path you have had from saving the world to disillusioned has touched my heart. Thanks.

I’m running out of room to store the hard copies of your weekly Provisions. I just read Issue #337 and was wondering if you had saved your weekly Provisions to disk and if they were available to one that tries to read them regularly? I started saving them earlier this year but have only scratched the surface of what you have generated over the years. (Ed. Note: There’s no need to store old Provisions. They’re all stored on our website along with every Wellness, Career, Creativity, Parenting, and Teamwork Pathway. The archive includes a search engine for easy topical browsing. Just go to and click on the appropriate link.)

I truly appreciate LifeTrek Provisions and I think the world is a better place because of them…I know I am. Thanks, again. 

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

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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