Turbo-Charge Your Listening – Your Friends Will Thank You

“Hello? Were you even listening?”

That phrase might be as familiar to you as the stuck bit on an old record. If that’s the case, then you’ve got a listening problem.

Yes, you.

However, being a subpar listener doesn’t just look like zoning out and letting your attention wander from the subject at hand. Insidious un-listening may present as waiting for your turn to speak, responding without addressing the former speaker’s statements, not committing important details to memory when asked and thus requiring the speaker to repeat themselves at length, selective and even deliberate listening to manipulate an outcome, etc. 

And – it’s important to note – having low-functioning listening skills is certainly redeemable! Some of us were actively taught about the principles of listening as children… 

Some didn’t have many powerful listening role models. As adults, we often assume our shortcomings and habits are engrained, like our DNA.

But that’s not so. 

We’re always being presented with new information – and thus, must always be learning!

For example, it isn’t common knowledge that listening occurs in five stages. There is a neurological path that can be followed from ingesting sounds in the form of words, to interpreting them, to responding to them.

Let’s get a little more granular about those five stages…

Listening in Five Parts

We’ll break it down like this – 

  1. Receiving: When we know it’s time to listen and decide to make an effort, our brain tries to fade distracting sounds down so that it can hone in on the primary message. External stimuli can be difficult to parse through, which is why listening must be a conscious effort.

    In this stage of listening, the main body part you’re using is your ear. 
  1. Understanding: Here, the brain works to interpret the message it received. A lot of sticky things can happen at this juncture. Communication is only as important as mutual understanding. You see, there’s a practice called “the listening of” which describes the state of listening a person is in when they try to receive your message. Because all of our experiences – from our life circumstances to our linguistic tics to our traumas – shape our understanding of the world, plenty of wires can get crossed at this stage.

    In this stage of listening, the main body part you’re using is your brain.
  1. Remembering: Maybe you got past the receiving and understanding phases just fine – but you always get stuck on the remembering part. This is the stage where your brain allots space for new information, filing it with its relatives and organizing it by priority. More complex messages require more complex filing, and are harder to commit to remembering. Remembering also relies on how clear and accurate your understanding was. Without remembering, none of the listening matters.

    In this stage of listening, the main body part you’re using is your brain.
  1. Evaluating: This is the place at which humans – meaning-making machines that we are – try to analyze and come to a conclusive judgment about the words we’ve received, understood and remembered. Here is where you should check your biases. Are you in a space of listening to your speaker’s words to parse inconsistencies, falsehoods, or ideas variant from your own? Or are you in a space of listening to your speaker’s experiences, feelings, and truths? Part of being a good listener is paying close attention to your speaker while suspending the desire to make this new information mean something about you.

    In this stage of listening, the main body part you’re using is your brain.
  1. Responding: This stage can occur in several ways. It can be formative or summative. Formative feedback presents as verbal or non-verbal indicators during a speech, confession, vent, instructional set, or other communication that shows engagement. Summative feedback would happen at the end of the speaker’s “turn.” If you’ve been active in the previous four stages, the response is what will prove it. Did you remember everything that they said? Did you respond to it in terms of your own experience? Did you express sympathy and support, or proffer solutions based on the speaker’s verbal and nonverbal cues?

    In this stage of listening, the main body parts you’re using are your brain and your mouth.

Listening does not happen in an instant.

Powerful listening is careful, deliberate, engaged, and weighs each stage as heavily as the last. 

To be as memorable a listener as you are a speaker, remember…

You’re not waiting for your turn. You shouldn’t begin your listening with an idea of what you think the speaker means. You also aren’t being handed information to memorize – ask questions, clarify, make sure you understand. 

Follow your brain’s natural listening process, but try it with renewed focus.

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NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.