How to Listen for Deeper Understanding

Do you ever struggle to stay focused and really listen?  Since we speak 125 to 175 words per minute but we can listen to 400 words per minute, our mind is processing three to four times more words. We have to be intentional about listening if we want someone to feel heard and understood.

Deep Listening

In Deep Listening: Impact Beyond Words, Oscar Trimboli compares great dialogue to the ebb and flow of the waves on a beach — a natural tempo and movement between the water and the sand.  Trimboli recommends the following steps to achieve deeper understanding and connection:

  1. Listen to Yourself – close your eyes for 15 seconds before a conversation, recognize what is running through your mind, then clear away the clutter and create a space to hear others.
  2. Listen to the Content – start by listening to the speaker’s words.
  3. Listen to the Context — ask thoughtful questions to clarify your understanding, such as “How long have you been thinking about this?” “What assumptions have you made to reach this conclusion?”
  4. Listen to the Unsaid – be curious about the difference between what they want to say and what they are actually saying. Ask the speaker, “Tell me more” or “What else are you thinking?” Treat a pause like another word in the conversation and notice the speaker’s intention.
  5. Listen to the Meaning – content, context and the unsaid all contribute to the meaning. Listening at this deeper level helps us make sense of the discussion and consider a wide range of perspectives and possibilities.

From Words to Action

As a former marketing and technology executive at Microsoft and PeopleSoft and a consultant to American Express, Google, PwC and other global companies, Tromboli learned that the more senior your role, the more listening you should be doing. He advises against trying to fix problems in the initial conversation but committing to taking action and then providing updates on those actions.

You may already practice techniques like active listening, mirroring and paraphrasing.  Can you envision the possibilities of taking your listening to a deeper level?