The Secret Power of Hearing Shadows
Listening is a skill. Making someone feel heard is a gift.
My dad’s first words when I told him about my new job were, “It’s not very close to home.” I was a fresh college graduate in Missouri. He was back home in Maine and the job was in Pennsylvania.
I did the easy thing. I heard words but I didn’t hear meanings.
Pennsylvania didn’t seem closer to him but it seemed closer to me. I resisted his words, observed he was right, and moved with my young family to live in the greater Philadelphia area. I’m not saying I made a wrong decision. But I didn’t hear what dad meant.
Today, it sounds silly that I heard the words but didn’t hear meanings. I totally missed it. My excuses are youth and enthusiasm.
Now that my own children are out and on their own, I know what he meant. It wasn’t geography. It was relationship.
Words are partial truths.
Foolish leaders listen; wise leaders hear.
My dad didn’t say, “I want to stay connected with you.” He didn’t say, “I’ll miss my grandchildren.” He said the easier, less revealing truth.
Most of us say easier, less revealing, less vulnerable truths. We hide our truths in shadows.
You connect more deeply by realizing words are shadows.
Once in a while, dip below the surface and let those around you know you understand their concerns.
The best times to hear are when:
- New tensions or stresses arise.
- Procedures change.
- Business is down.
- Achievements are enjoyed.
Listen for and hear:
- Reject the need to give solutions. This may be the hardest thing to do.
- Don’t make excuses.
- Withhold judgement.
- Help them think their own thoughts.
The goal of hearing is making people feel understood. People who feel understood open their hearts to your influence.
How do you listen in ways that make others feel understood?
Love you Dan, but I think you have the words reversed. “Hearing” is simply auditory, “listening” is receiving meaning.
We say, my hearing is going bad, not, my listening is going bad. We go to the doctor for a hearing test not a listening test.
Your point is well received, but some may get confused about the words. I would put it that Hearing is a function, listening is the gift.
You “heard” your Dad’s words with your ears and auditory sense. You were listening for the meaning.
Too often we hear without listening.
Just sayin’. Great points though.
Thanks Dan. I’m glad you listened to the point even if the language is confusing.
Emote empathy and act accordingly with compassion…because appropriate responsive action expresses understanding.
Ryan, thanks for bringing up a neglected leadership quality/behavior… compassion. I’m convinced it takes courage to show compassion.
Dan, listening and really hearing are skills that you must take the time to master intentionally.
To make others feel understood, we listen with all of our senses. We can pick up so much just by really looking at the person speaking. Their facial expressions, their posture, their breathing pattern. It is the unsaid that we are trying to “hear.” We lean in, remove distractions, give the space and time to complete their thoughts and story. Then we wait. We wait to hear more, we wait as we process the information (rather than spouting a prepared answer). We review the story as we understand it by giving a synopsis back. We wait some more to see if they want to add or re-clarify. We measure our words and responses before we speak. We mirror their emotions. If appropriate we touch them.
Basically we enter into the story with them.
Often people are not looking for your quick solution. Many people just want to be heard.
Martina, Thanks for joining in again!
Thanks for extending the conversation to include body language.
LOve this sentence, “Basically we enter into the story with them.” KaPOW! I’m off to twitter to tweet that one.
Thanks Dan. have a great day.
The best leaders are the best listeners. Thanks for sharing Dan!!
Nicely put Melissa. We might think the best leaders are the best talkers but that’s getting the cart before the horse.
What you shared – ‘when people feel understood they are open to your influence’ I recently had a conversation with a person;
– gave me the ‘unrequested’ advice which was excellent, but
– I only received half of it.
– I strongly felt that I was not understood throughout the whole conversation.
-Unfortunately I could not express that to him.
I hope to do better though with those I communicate with, I believe that this article will further strengthen my listening skills.
Again thank you,
Thanks for sharing your story. It powerfully illustrates the importance and power of listening to make people feel heard. Best wishes in your future pursuits.
The challenge of just words or just notes of music… a couple of musical tangents here…
Yes sang,”I listened hard but could not see” which could be missing the message by not being truly present in the moment and not seeking to weave the full meaning from all of the layers of that communication.
And Debussey once said that music is the space between the notes. In your conversation with your father, it appears the message was between or under the words spoken.
The good news is that truly listening can be practiced and can even lead to wisdom, although sometimes that takes more time than anticipated. It is more than just hearing the words, it is attending to and staying at a heightened level of receptivity in that moment.
Wonder if there are similar paths…
You teach me and entertain me at the same time. The comparison between listening and the space between notes is brilliant…
I like how wisdom follows understanding in your final sentence….We often speak too quickly to be wise.
Thank you for your insights.
Thanks Dan – I love the story (have my own about my father – and it is sometimes easier to hear the words, not the meaning, especially when it fits in with a story about the person that we have in our heads). That’s why I think it actually can be harder to not make excuses and withhold judgment, for me at least, than to not offer solutions. Even though I teach leadership and do my best to live by what I teach, I can find myself making up stories when I listen to others, and making sure that what I listen to fits in with the stories I’ve made up. Yea you for calling us all back to truly hearing others, as best we can.
I feel sometimes language is a barrier for our personal growth. We tend to relay on language alone for decision making causing collateral damage we do not even see. To me language is a means to communicate we humans have been refining along many years but it is still so short to truly gain understanding between us. Ask what love is to several people and diversity is pretty much defined right there. Then throw in personal history, slang, culture, technology, etc…. it is getting more interesting as we “modernize”. My experience has always been that communication with others is always flawed somewhere…the challenge is to find where and fix (your storytelling post comes handy) Rule of thumb is that good old face to face communication will never be replaced as the best way to connect.
PS: Thanks for all you do!
Thanks Dan- this is the message leaders need to hear. I am noted by my clients for the listening I do – not the advice I give. I was asked by a leader how I do it, I now have this article to point them to.
You are gracious to take the time to put this into words each day, thank you.
Thank you, Dan & the others.
I’m inspired to throw this thought into the equation: the soul is also and auditory & oratory ‘organ’. We don’t only hear with our ears or speak with our mouths. Sometimes our voice comes right from the heart. Or from the depths of our core values, from the essence of who we are. Only very often we don’t have the tools, or vocabulary, to express these thoughts or feelings clearly, so they come out as ‘mixed messages’. The real read-between-the-lines kind of stuff, often said even before we’re aware ourselves of what we truly want to communicate.
Pure and effective communication is the alignment of: WHO you are, WHAT your message is, and HOW you get it across. The WHO is constant, but the WHAT & HOW can fluctuate in a nanosecond, almost undetectable. It’s very challenging to always be in sync.
Sometimes it’s necessary to bypass the words in order to understand the meaning. To listen from the WHO, from the heart. ♥
Bonnie, your message hits right on the nail, I think you communicated it beautifully….thank you for sharing.
We listen with our head. We hear with our heart.
During times of crisis it can be easy to listen rather than hear. There is so much going on and we are worried for our own situations, so it is hard to stop and really look for the truths below the surface. From a public health perspective this can be especially challenging. Public health officials have to handle their own personal dilemmas while still hearing and responding to the problems of everyone they interact with. The three bulletins under hearing – do not give solutions or excuses and withhold judgement – are vitally important when interacting with a public that is scared and unsure. This is the best time to be practicing active listening, as there are many new stressors, procedures are very changed, and business is almost halted. I enjoy the sprinkling of positivity in this and think that this is just as important. In this pandemic, for example, really hearing about achievements and sharing them can help lead to more hopes and aspirations than fears and frustrations.
Everyone wants to be heard. To facilitate this, I like to repeat back pieces of what the person has said to me. This ensures that I do actually understand what they mean and gives them a chance to clarify or expand if it does not sound right. I have also found that setting aside any distractions can help people feel heard. Sometimes this means putting aside my phone or setting aside my fidgeting. When talking to friends or family about important matters I occasionally just ask them how they feel about the topic. While this can seem cringy, it helps people pause and take stock of how they are being impacted by the situation and it lets us delve into what they are thinking and how they can move forward from it. We hide our truths in shadows, but sometimes just asking for some light is enough to bring them out into the open.