listening is more than hearing

Effective listening takes practice; it’s actually a discipline. It doesn’t come easily or naturally. Listening means more than just hearing what a person says.

A counselor I know expressed the difference like this: "Hearing captures the words a person speaks; listening captures the meaning and the feeling beneath those words."

Listening is the mental step by which we become more aware of the other person than we are of ourselves.

The best definition of listening I ever came across is that given by Norman H. Wright, who wrote, “Listening is not thinking about what you are going to say when the other person has stopped talking."

Stephen Goforth


Some professors argue that they don’t want to hear their students talk about a subject because they don’t know enough… But I always think of piano teachers; they would never keep their students away from the keyboard simply because those pupils couldn’t yet play Mozart. Sure they have to endure a lot of bad notes, but they would never push someone off the bench and refuse to let them play until they somehow became better.

Ken Bain, What the Best College Teachers Do

The Best Advice

Talk a little less, and listen more. Less advice is often the best advice. People don’t need lots of advice; they need a listening ear and some positive reinforcement. What they want to know is often already somewhere inside of them. They just need time to think, be and breathe, and continue to explore the undirected journeys that will eventually help them find their direction.

Marc and Angel Chernoff

The Prose & Poetry of Change

The principal prose skill is finding your own voice. It is discovering how to be present in the experience of listening. It is listening deeply and experiencing just as deeply. There are prose elements to leading and living.

But similarly, there are poetry elements. Poetry is what illuminates your life. Poetry is what fills the small silences. Poetry is what brings you to meaning. Poetry is what touches the small fibers of who you are.

If you live a life of pure prose, you will live a linear and an effective but not an illuminus life. But if you can some how merge poetry and prose, you have the potential as a person and as a professional to be remarkable.

Roger Fransecky, The Apogee Group

Playing Patty-Cake

With younger children the communication is more and more nonverbal but still ideally requires periods of total concentration.

You can't play patty-cake very well when your mind is elsewhere. And if you can only play patty-cake halfheartedly, you are running the risk of having a halfhearted child. Adolescent children require less total listening time from their parents than a six-year-old but even more true listening time.

They are much less likely to chatter aimlessly, but when they do talk, they want their parents' full attention even more than do the younger children.

M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

If I Really Cared

If I really cared...

I’d look you in the eyes when you talk to me;

I’d think about what you’re saying rather than what I’m going to say next;

I’d hear your feelings as well as your words.


If I really cared...

I’d listen without defending;

I’d hear without deciding whether you’re right or wrong;

I’d ask you why, not just how and when and where.


If I really cared...

I’d allow you inside of me;

I’d tell you my hopes, my dreams, my fears, my hurts;

I’d tell you where I’ve blown it and when I’ve made it.


If I really cared...

I’d laugh with you but not at you;

I’d talk with you and not to you;

And I’d know when it’s time to do neither.


If I really cared...

I wouldn’t climb over your walls;

I’d hang around until you let me in the gate.

I wouldn’t unlock your secrets;

I’d wait until you handed me the key.


If I really cared...

I’d love you anyhow;

But I’d ask for the best that you can give

And gently draw it from you.


If I really cared...

I’d put my scripts away,

And leave my solutions at home.

The performances would end.

We’d be ourselves.


Ruth Senter

Listen Slowly

Some years back, I was snapping at my wife and children, choking down my food at mealtimes, and feeling irritated at those unexpected interruptions through the day. Before long, things around our house reflected the pattern of my hurry-up style.

After supper one evening, the words of one of our daughters gave me a wake-up call. She wanted to tell me something important that had happened to her at school that day. She hurriedly began, “Daddy-I-wanna-tell-you-somethin’-and-I’ll-tell-you-really-fast.”

Realizing her frustration, I answered, “Honey, you can tell me... and you don’t have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly.”

I’ll never forget her answer: “Then listen slowly.”

Charles Swidoll

I count you

When you talk with your partner, what you say and how you say it tells a great deal about your attitude toward both your partner and yourself. For example, when you listen attentively, you indicate to him or her: I count you. When you clearly state what you want for yourself or what you are feeling, it is a way of saying: I count myself.

When you value or count someone--either yourself or another person--you express a positive set of assumptions about that person’s significance:

- faith in the intention to treat each person as important,

- confidence in the ability to handle situations, or to recognize when help is needed,

- trust in the willingness to follow through on promises,

- belief in the commitment to each person's well-being.

On the other hand, when you discount someone--including yourself--the set of assumptions is just the opposite: lack of faith, confidence, trust and belief.

You do have a choice: you can act in ways which say, “I count myself,” or in ways which say, “I don't count myself.”

The reason you always have a choice is this: your counting attitude is not the same as your feelings. It is not the same as your momentary view of yourself, or even your more stable and enduring self esteem. None of these is the key. Instead, the key is whether you treat yourself as significant, as someone whose intentions, thoughts, feelings, etc., are worth taking into account. The same thing is true about counting your partner.

Your counting attitude seems to grow out of a deeper belief in the fundamental value of every person.

Give people you don’t know a fair chance

When you look at a person, any person, remember that everyone has a story. Everyone has gone through something that has changed them, and forced them to grow. Every passing face on the street represents a story every bit as compelling and complicated as yours. We meet no ordinary people in our lives. 

Renee Jones (read more here)

listening to children

Why exert effort to focus totally on the boring prattlings of a six-year-old? First, you willingness to do so is the best possible concrete evidence of your esteem you can give your child. If you give your child the same esteem you would give a great lecturer, then the child will know him or herself to be valued and therefore feel valuable. Second, the more children feel valuable, the more they will begin to say things of value.

They will rise to your expectation of them. Third, the more you listen to your child, the more you will realize that in amoungst the pauses, the stutterings, the seemingly innocent chatter, your child does indeed have valuable things to say. Listen to your child enough and you'll come to realize that he or she is quite an extraordinary individual. And the more extraordinary you realize your child to be, the more you'll will be willing to listen. And the more you will learn.

M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

true listening in action

Since true listening is love in action, nowhere is it more appropriate than in marriage. Yet most couples never truly listen to each other. Couples are often surprised, even horrified, when we suggest to them that among the things they should do is talk to each other by appointment. It seems rigid and unromantic and unspontaneous to them. Yet true listening can occur only when time is set aside for it and conditions are supportive of it. It cannot occur when people are driving, or cooking or tired and anxious to sleep or easily interrupted or in a hurry. Romantic “love” is effortless, and couples are frequently reluctant to shoulder the effort and discipline of true love and listening. But when and if they finally do, the results are superbly gratifying.

M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled