How to be a Leader who Hears What’s Not Said
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This post was written by Mark Miller, Vice President High Performance Leadership, Chick-fil-A Inc.
Are you a musician? I am not. Yes, I played the trombone in fourth grade, but that seems to have been a rite of passage for all suburban kids of my generation. I was never really a musician. But recently, I found a musical insight that will serve me the rest of my life — maybe it will help you too.
Striving for mastery:
I have been working for decades on being a better listener. Some say I’ve made progress; others might disagree. However, I have long known that really good leaders are often the best listeners in the room. I continue to strive to master this skill.
So, what does this have to do with being a musician? Here’s what I’ve been thinking about for the last several months. If you look at a piece of sheet music, you’ll see lines (staff) and dots (notes), some with tails, and squiggles. I recently realized there’s something else on the page: the space between the notes! Music isn’t just notes and squiggles — it’s also spaces.
Listening to Spaces:
Here’s the connection to listening. If we are not careful, we’ll confuse listening with the ability to recite back the notes we heard. I guess that is one form of listening. But the higher form of listening includes both the notes and the spaces.
The best leaders listen for what is being said and what is NOT being said. We must listen for the implications, intent, and inflection. We must not reduce listening to a mechanical process of recording the notes.
The spaces matter as much as the notes.
If you want to listen at a higher level, try listening to the space between the notes too. It’s the difference between listening on a cheap radio and hearing live music played by a symphony. And it’s worth the effort.
What general listening tips might you add?
How might leaders hear what isn’t being said?
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Thanks to Mark for his guest post. Three ways to listen to spaces come to my mind.
- Allow silence. Don’t fill the spaces with your own words. Try counting to three before you speak. Relax your breathing.
- Listen for assumptions. What is the speaker assuming about others, you, or him/herself?
- Listen to nonverbal signals. Are they leaning in or away, for example?
Leave your comment below. You may win a complimentary copy of Mark’s new book:
Would love a copy. Your articles are always great.
I would also love a copy of your book. I am inspired by your thoughts.
Would love a copy and love this blog
It’s been said that you are given 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason, it’s because you should listen twice as much as you speak, can’t stress enough the importance of listening in many scenarios
Listening is a learned skill.
I volunteered to run the sound board at my church without any experience, because the guy who did it quit and we had to have somebody. A few weeks into it one of the band members helped me learn to listen differently. When running the sound board you have to focus in on each musician and their instrument. Then you can adjust the settings to make that part of the whole better. Sometimes the white space is the noise of everything else going on, and you need to cut through that so you can focus on the most important parts, but you also have to be able to hear the entire ensemble so you can make sure that the changes you make with one part don’t interfere with the whole. Thanks for reminding me that listening is an active skill that needs to be practiced and honed.
I love this post and this blog. Just recently I met with my leadership team to discuss our dream list. I am analyzing everyone’s written input because I am looking specifically for things that are NOT on the list. I am afraid I am spending too much time on the things that don’t matter and don’t lead to our vision.
Due to this post, I am now challenged to do the same when listening. In music, the most powerful notes often come after complete silence.
I’ve learned that listening is a two-person-game. The listener is not just an observer, they are a fully integrated part of this game. When we consider that the act of speaking out is a vulnerability, we can respect that vulnerability and nurture the speaker to get the most from the interaction. Respecting the vulnerability means we listen with our full body, we provide space/time for more, and we are curious without judgement.
PS: Loving your leadership articles.
Love your articles! Would love the book.
Seek understanding–listen to gain understanding. Seek to connect. Many times we listen to respond.
Hearing the space between the notes is also a requirement for harmony. As a musician, you can’t play in harmony with others if you don’t listen to the spaces. As we seek to grow our leadership, Mark is exactly correct. What isn’t said is just as important as what is said. Plus what we do with or about the things in the space will determine how effectively we interact with others. Thanks!
Leadership Freak is a daily go to resource for me. Thanks. This post on listening is spot on. Listening is an acquired skill and vital to leadership. How can you lead if at first you don’t listen?
I love it. Many times I will call on people on the team who I know are good listeners, what I like to call processors. They seem to have the ability to hear what’s being really said, what I call reading between the lines. Dan, Keep up the great work. Howie
Listening for what is not being said is often more important than listening to what is being said. We must also watch the body language of the others in the conversation to grasp the complete meaning of their words and “spaces”.
Brilliantly articulated. Yes the spaces are as important as the notes. Without them it would be a cacophony.
Even the listener has to provide ‘space’ in his ‘head’ when listening to the spaces in the music. If his head is in the ” already always thinking” mode, neither the notes or the spaces will make any sense.
Listening well is an art I too really need to learn and eventually master.
Thanks for the post.
I have always found queues for stopping talking or butting and sit and listen by looking at people’s expressions and the tension in their bodies. This isn’t always easy to do either when stuff needs to be done, though the most worthwhile developments have taken place by becoming first self aware of my haste and trying to understand the other voice.
Love your music analogy Dan – reminds me of baking a sponge cake, when the most critical element in having a successful end product is the one thing you can’t see – air – the more air that is incorporated the lighter the cake and the more it rises. 🙂
Thank you for a great post. Seek first to understand…
Not necessarily a listening tip, in a related vein, Miles Davis said “It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.” Understanding what to leave out because it adds nothing or even detracts from the listeners’ experience.
In a discussion or question & answer time: Use of paraphrasing back to the speaker what they have said [the notes] can help the speaker to discover what the spaces are, and to then articulate them.
When the spaces are for mostly for purposes of obfuscation and/or there is not opportunity for discussion: I believe the analogy to reading music is simple genius.
I find continual encouragement to grow in my leadership through this blog! Thanks for investing in all of us!
Enjoy reading these blog posts! Would love the new book to help with building leadership capacity in our building!
Mastering the silence and waiting for a response can be challenging at times especially in a stressful conversation. Always enjoy your articles!
Listening for intent is a crucial skill for leaders and one that I’ve not seen much in the corporate world. I’ve been lucky enough to have 1 or 2 leaders in my 35+ years of working that have demonstrated this skill. When done well, it is seamless and appears effortless> It is a rare skill that we all need to develop more fully.
I have found that when you think the person is done talking, if you wait before responding, they often have more to say. So I have been trying to train myself not to respond to quickly. This is a great post! Thanks.
These words are music to my ears. I believe it is also important to recognize those who used to sing/play music often and have stopped. They may believe their voice/music is no longer relevant. Ask them to sing again and listen to it all including the spaces.
Restraining yourself from stating your solution or insight is very difficult. I love the pause 3 seconds strategy. Great articles!
Great thoughts on listening! The “space between” is often body language, emotion, perspective and history that affect perspective. Thanks for the reminder and the challenge for improvement!
I read your blog everyday and appreciate the tips. I too would love a copy of Mark Miller’s new book. Thanks!
The analogy given to a musical piece is one I have not read before but can visualize what is taking place between those notes that make the rest of the score work. Thank you for sharing.
Listening is a crucial skill for all of us. Hearing what is not being said should make you ask some questions later on.
Thanks for a great article, as always.
My wife came to mind as I read this story. She is an expert at listening between the lines. In our many conversations I have found, almost in reverse order, that there is much said in the space between MY OWN WORDS, and she has a knack for picking up on it!
I have heard my mentors say many times that leaders listen more than talk. This is easier said then done, but the benefits are immediate when you truly STOP and listen to what your employee, boss, spouse etc. are NOT saying, and pick up on those subtle other body language cues as well.
Great post this morning!
Your blogs start my day in an inspirational way! Thank you!
Truly great listening requires keeping a check on your emotional investment in the situation. Once emotions enter the picture, great listening becomes much more challenging.
I would truly appreciate a copy of Mark’s book! Thank you Dan for continuing to challenge all of us with next level leadership principles!
Students stop listening because the space is filled with the same question over and over.
Love reading your blogs every day. I find they apply to both business and life at home for me. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
Thank you for providing leadership and concerned ideas for our future leaders of tomorrow.
We all need to sit down and listen to each others expression of leadership, then offer input.
Great insight. Sometimes silence is golden.
Thanks for sharing Dan- Would love a copy as well.
learning to read music and learning to play an instrument with those notes requires training. I appreciate this post opening my mind to listening training.
One thing I think it may be worthy to note is that this becomes easier if I stay in the moment with the individual. Most of the time I’m not just with one person but several. When one is trying to talk to me, it can be easy to use the space “between the notes” to scan the room or think of my response. Instead, I need to maintain my focus on the individual in front of me in that moment.
Good article! I look forward to these.
Great point Joshua.
Thanks for the great post! Love this analogy and would be grateful for a copy as that’s exactly where I’m headed, in building a leadership culture at my school!
Glad to be back!!
At times this is a hard lesson to learn and follow! I would love to learn more!
Great article. As one who often speaks at a slower pace than most, I find people interrupting me mid-sentence, so this hits home for me. A great deal of communication happens non-verbally, and the “spaces” Mark refers to are full of great communications. Thanks, love hearing this, even as a little validation of my personal feelings.
Great post Mark! Thank you for sharing Dan. I love the music analogy and will use it in the future with a caveat that listening to music is a personal experience and doesn’t require the listener to understand the music or message. I can enjoy music in languages I don’t understand. However, in relationships, it is important to be aware of the silence and cues and then probe for more information or understanding about what the silence may mean. I find this to be really important when working cross-culturally where communication styles and body language cues can mean different things.
Listening is to a conversation as space and rests are to a musical composition – this is so insightful! All notes and no rests will simply be too noisy. Thank you for reminding us that there is meaning and art in what is not heard. I will strive to hear more of what is not being said.
Listening is a learned skill both in music as referenced by Mr. Miller and conversations. I struggle with this, and know many others with same struggles. Best thing I have learned, and must consciously force myself to do is SHUT UP up and let the other speak. Easy with music, not so much in conversations!
Be honest about the willingness to listen to what does not appeal to your own opinion. Leaders will find truth that can be insightful and useful to them.
This got me thinking about what I do to try (and try some more) to be a better listener.
– a good friend taught me the listener has the power, not the talker…. so I am mindful of that (if you doubt it, consider how rattling it is to be talking and having the person you are talking to checking their electronic device….they do have the power!)
– I jot down a note about a contribution I want to make – but then wait and listen until later and then might say it if it is still relevant, or not, if it no longer makes sense. That way I don’t feel anxious about having to make my point (I have the reminder in my notes)
– I say to myself – Listen with wonder (as though I was a grandmother listening to their precious 3 year old grandchild) – I forget where I learned that, but it has really helped me!
Kerry–I do the same thing now. I jot down my ideas and thoughts so I don’t have to be on the edge of my seat, ready to speak. If I can quiet my mind, clear the path so there is room for others, it can make listening easier.
I so love LEADERSHIP FREAK. As a school principal, I am continually developing my leadership skills AND developing leadership in others. L F is a daily “go to” for inspiration, ideas and advice…thank you!
I need to work on this and your article was helpful but would love more suggestions on how to do this more effectively. It is hard to be silent but it does prompt deeper thinking. Thanks for making me more mindful of this.
Wow. People are motivated by the offer of free books. Yesterday, 3 comments. Today, 50+.
Re: this post, silence is very important. As a preacher & teacher I try to use pauses and silence effectively in communication. It allows my listeners to process, reflect, make application. I should do the same as a listener. In economics I teach students to try to see the unseen – what are the presuppositions in that statement? We see money being spent here, but what’s unseen is money NOT being spent there. So with hearing. What’s NOT being said? And is that intentional? We choose our words. We are selective. Listen deeply for motives.
and there was me thinking isn’t it wonderful how people are motivated by music. That even the lyrics of the blog post were music to the discerning listeners ears.
Excellent suggestion Pete Smith: “I try to use pauses and silence effectively in communication. It allows my listeners to process, reflect, make application.”
Another great article! Thanks Mark (and Dan for sharing). On sales calls I like to practice “Golden Silence.” After I ask a question I pause for at least 5 seconds so the person has a chance to answer. Then I pause again because they often will follow-up with additional information.
To help with my listening skills as a manager trying to relate to his/her direct reports, I developed a modified “Management by Walking Around” from the Tom Peters school of thought. Once a week, I meet with one employee for one hour. Together we ‘walk-about’ the manufacturing floor and review the process. The rules of engagement are: I ask general questions, and the employee explains everything they know about the process/equipment/operation. As manager, I refrain from: ‘telling’, ‘correcting’, ‘criticizing’ or otherwise interacting with the employees statements or terminology. I focus on listening and remaining ’emotionally quiet’. Afterwards, I review what took place and develop a written training plan for the employee if needed or simply give them a ‘great job’ if all was successful.
The insights have been of great. I get to know the employee better. Relationship barriers are removed. I learn how employees relate to the process (especially if there is confusion about how something operates). I learn the wide variety of terminology and perspectives that the employees have developed. I often use these different terminologies and perspectives to try to train new employees.
Your insight is always great, and I love how succinct the articles are. I strive to be a better listener always. I was once told that as humans, we aren’t listening to what someone is saying, so much as assuming what they’re GOING to say and planning our response when they’re talking. My best advice is to let that go, and focus on the words someone is saying. silence isn’t truly meaningful unless you were listening. and sometimes, people just want to be heard, they don’t even need a response.
Good article. Wish it was required reading for people in leadership positions!
I’ve always thought I was a good listener, but I seem to only hear what I think I need to hear. I’d like to know more about how to be a better listener.
Your insight is always great, and I love how succinct the articles are. I strive to be a better listener always. I was once told that as humans, we aren’t listening to what someone is saying, so much as assuming what they’re GOING to say and planning our response when they’re talking. My best advice is to let that go, and focus on the words someone is saying. silence isn’t truly meaningful unless you were listening. and sometimes, people just want to be heard, they don’t even need a response.
Space is extremely important. As a people pleaser, I have to work to try to NOT give an immediate answer, as that can bite you in the ***. You have to read people, just as you have to read music…sometimes issues can crescendo! Thank you for this thoughtful and uinsightful post!
Listening for assumptions is critical, as assumptions are often the unseen and unheard (unless you’re listing for them!) foundation of the message. Thanks as always, Dan!
Hi Dan, interesting as always. I like the music analogy – similar to something I learned in photography – see not only what is there, but see also what is not.
In dealing with teams over the years I learned that silence or an absence of comment often can mean ‘I don’t know how or whether I should bring this up’. Often those gaps reflect precisely what we are trying to learn about, or something that needs scrutiny.
There is a significant difference is listening to hear and listening to understand. Relationships are built on the latter.
Great article today. I would love a chance at a copy of this book!
I have learned that listening skills vary person by person for the same person. If someone is talking to a friend, wife, children or colleagues, they tend to cut them off during conversations and put their own points forward. I think it’s the ‘comfort level’ that makes them a bad listener. However, if you are infront of your VP or someone higher up, you tend to be better listener. Until you get into a habit of being a better listener, a strategy (or practice) that might work is picturing your ‘comfortable circle’ as someone higher-up so that you patiently listen 🙂
This is so good!
Holy cow look at all the comments Dan! I suppose a good book offer will do that. I would add that it also helps to see “through” the notes. Often times it is not what is said, but what isn’t or implied that leaders have to discern/interpret in order to correct/refine/redirect team members/the organization.
It’s often very difficult to allow the space between the words. There is a natural tendency by many to feel the need to fill the silence as it seems awkward. Most guidance about listening leads us to repeat back what we hear, so for years we’ve been learning to listen closely to the words and parrot them. This is a great thought to not miss the silence. And for me, will require great focus.
The best listening is reciprocation. Not “spitting back the notes”, but making the information tangible and applicable to you and your situation. If I can make what you are telling me apply to my personal experience, I’m more apt to recognize and remember the lesson. Great post.
We can always learn more about listening to others. It’s very very important when building relationships, when mentoring, when leading, etc. I would love a copy of your book. I love your articles they always seem to hit at the right time.
It’s critical to ‘listen’ to peoples’ body language as well – sometimes they’ll verbally tell you one thing, and their body language is sending a very different message. This is challenging in a workplace environment where people are communicating and they are not in the same room / building / state…but it is so vitally important to ensuring you’re receiving the complete message (and to teasing out those spaces between the notes).
I think leaders also understand when a silence speaks loudly and when they need to address what’s unsaid.
This is fantastic! I’ve telling my students about the importance of no verbal cues and listening to what is not being said.
Love this post! Pausing in silence just a bit more than you think you should often provides a moment when someone shares what’s really on their mind. Great post!!
As a new piano student, I very much appreciated your analogy today. It gave me a lot to think about. Sometimes I focus too closely on what was “said” instead of paying attention to what was left “unsaid”. Thanks!
Excellent post! Listening is key in any conversation with team members, Reminds me of the W.A.I.T.method that I learned long ago to encourage listening.. (W)hy (A)m (I) (T)alking? Thank you for your continued encouragement to be better leaders.
This is a great article. Listening to others as we would music is a way of listening I have not thought of. I try to stay quiet and truly listen to what someone is saying, while watching their eyes and taking in other non-verbal cues to have an entire picture rather than just hearing the words.
As ever, Mark has given us a key to leadership growth! My wife is a musician and I realized why I love to listen to her play: the inflection and interpretation add so much to the music. She can play the same piece twice and evoke completely different reactions. And in my speaking career I learned that silence is often the best way of bringing an audience with you; space to reflect on a truth shared, or a personal response. As leaders we are useless if we are so far ahead that we leave others behind. The space between the notes not only helps us listen more effectively, it helps us invite others to move forward in harmony with us. Many thanks for your excellent blog Dan. It is a daily must-read on my leadership journey.
There is certainly a lot to be heard in the silence – I appreciate the analogy! The three ways to listen to that silence were especially poignant for me. Thank you, Dan, for summing it all up so eloquently time and again!
Insightful as usual. Responding with reference to the speaker’s feelings and content shows you are actively listening.
Another art analogy that I dwell on daily is to enjoy the “negative areas” of the objects around us. In art this is very important wherein the shape and contours of an object are just as important, if not more, than the details used in refining the object. Each morning and evening I bask in the dark shapes of trees, buildings, and land forms as the muted colors fill in the backdrop to illuminate a uniform blackness of the landscape without giving insight into the details of the characteristics of the object. This allows you to grasp and understand the structure and design without the complications or distractions that easily pull us away from what is the fullness of the object. Short story of this for me is that leaders must be enterprise thinkers and if you don’t see the enterprise you will be leading based on the details you are focusing on, not addressing the object as a whole.
These points are great reminders for me on my leadership journey, listening is certainly an area that I can continue to grow in.
It’s tone, emotion, body language and what sometimes is not being said that makes active listening so challenging and yet so rewarding to really fully listen.
I find it helpful to repeat back what I think I’ve heard. I’ll say something like, If I’ve heard you correctly, you believe XXX. Sometimes I’ll be corrected, but usually the speaker is pleased I’m taking the time to make sure I understand their viewpoint. I try to correct my habit of wanting to jump in & have my say by taking a moment to be sure I understand their message clearly.
Wow! Love the posts as I read them virtually everyday
The “listen for implications” really resonates with me. I have difficulty doing this. I’d love to see how I can learn to improve this.
I smiled when reading your blog and the comments by so many because it’s so on target. I’ve been at meetings where people talk so much, and listen so little, that the rest of the group shuts down and starts to make grocery lists in their head. I’ve also seen colleagues who have been gently encouraged to wait a bit before speaking — for whom it was so hard that they literally put their hands on their mouth, twisting and turning in their chair so much that I feared for their well-being. Usually the hard part of listening is fearing your silence indicates a lack of a response. All you can do is to put the topic out on the table and have a good facilitator who praises the silences, until it starts to become a natural part of the conversation — instead of the usual race to speak your peace.
Along the same lines, silence is extremely powerful. Deafening at times. Leaders need to embrace silence. It is often that space between notes where people are gathering their thoughts, assembling their words, and building up the courage to speak. Unfortunately, many leaders will try to fill the silence and overpower the discomfort it often creates quashing those relevant, insightful and courageous comments that follow silence.
Eye contact is extremely important when listening. This may seem trivial, but it is extremely important to show you are listening not just with your ears, but also your eyes. This will also help to listen for, and pick up on nonverbal communications.
As a newer leader this book title is very intriguing and I would love the chance to win a copy.
As a leader in my organization I am learning to listen to the silence. I would love to read the book.
Sometimes the white space in a meeting can be the people who seldom speak up, although they could have something valuable to contribute. If you take the time to call on these individuals, you may hear some interesting notes.
I wonder if Introverts are sometimes better listeners. Introverts seem not in any hurry to comment on a speaker’s words unless they really have something to say. They seem comfortable to sit back, listen, and reflect before offering comments.
Being in a fast moving design team, these silences, to some, come across as a breakdown in the conversation, rather than a moment of inflection or discovery. Recognizing them as potential “lightbulb” moments is a skill that need to be taught.
Paying attention to non verbal cues is essential. I would love a copy
I think leader need to listen to what is being said as well as what is not being said. The other important thing for leaders to look for is non verbal communication. I’ve heard as much as 65% of all communication is non verbal. Using these factors can help the leader get the whole story.
Love the title of the new book and can’t wait to read it.
This has been one of the best blogs I have joined! I get tidbits all the time that help me not only as a leader, but in all my day-to-day interactions. Thank you so much for sharing. At my work, I am taking an educational series called “Aspiring Leaders”. Yesterday’s session was all about the art of excellent listening. To have this article land in my inbox this morning was utterly perfect timing. Thank you!
I too am striving to become a better listener. Loved the idea of a higher level of listening! Thank you.
Counting to 3 and listening for assumptions are most difficult for me. Having a peer to ask “What did you hear or Not hear?” Really helps as well. Accountability is key.
Taking a deep breath in intense conversations and monitoring body language, yours and your conversation partner fills the space with critical clues. It takes practice, lots of deliberate practice, but the growth in listening ability, ever so small at first, does eventually blossom!
I appreciate your blogs; they are helping me to prepare to work on my administrative degree. I’d love a copy of the book!
I work in a culturally diverse office. Different cultures communicate differently; this can (and frequently does) lead to miscommunication! I think it is vital to not only listen to what is not being said, but to also understand the cultural communication style of the person you are trying to communicate with!
What a great blog to start my day! I’m not a “musician” either, but I can read music. You could take the music connection further but taking note of the “rests” – those times when people purposely stop and pause and linger and rest. We need to listen through the “rests” – no matter how long they last. Thank you Dan, for inviting others to guest post, but mostly for your insights each day. Though I am not a leader in a business, I am a pastor’s wife and youth leader and parent – I appreciate your blogs and extract all I can for the roles I have in my community.
Thank you for the insights Mark! I find myself in so many other leaders simply waiting for our turn to speak rather than listening to what the other person has to say.
I have found a good exercise for myself is following a conversation to try and journal what the other person was saying. If I struggle with putting down on paper what they were saying, then I probably wasn’t listening very well.
I’ve also found that I listen better and more intently when I maintain direct I contact with the speaker. It is easier to let my mind wander when my eyes wander.
Funny how a free book brings readers out of the woodwork to respond… NO free book for me, Dan. Just a supporting comment that your ARTICLES and posts are great and worthy of comment, even without some extrinsic reward. And I guess the operable question is, “How do we get more active involvement in the blog from your readers?” — Have fun out there!!
Love this blog – thank you so much for continuing to share insightful thoughts and information!
Love this blog, and I don’t say Thank You enough! Keep up the great work – love your insights and articles!
The best communication lesson I learned when I heard our 10-year old daughter, “I don’t care what you said mommy, I know what I heard!” So, in my view, listening to what is not heard, rather than what is not said, is more critical. The two may converge into the one and the same; provided we have no other agenda in mind than singularly listening to the other person to the exclusion of everything else. Such transformational listening requires functioning at the intellectual level, in contrast to the basic transactional listening at only at the sensory level. This may explain the difficulty in listening to what is not heard (or not said). Thank you very much for shedding more light on this important and necessary skill for leaders.
First, be an authentic person who highly regards the legitimate rights and needs of the speaker to be heard. Then, and only then, are you ready to tune your listening antennae(s)! Be mindful that no amount of planning and exercise, in regards to listening skills development, will compensate for instinct.
Effective listening, which is so important for truly understanding what is being said both verbally and non-verbally, includes all of the points you mention. Being able to use the information gained from deep listening to make the best decisions, actions, and interactions is the next step. Listening well is the jumping off point for creating inspired action and collaboration.
Listening is an underrated skill for any leader. Exercising that skill can help everyone develop their leadership acumen.
As I reflect on the leaders who have influenced me, their ability to hear and listen was certainly a trait that set them apart. They modeled discipline in focusing on others, listening to the words spoken, but also hearing the emotion and non-verbals being communicated. Rather than being concerned with their response, they were intent on listening, asking questions, and utilizing “pauses” to great advantage.
As I continue the quest of being a good listener, one of the things I concentrate on is being okay with “pauses” or the silence that is present “between the notes”. I am finding this can be the time when some of the best creativity and counsel can occur.
With the age of electronic communication, I think listening between the notes, i.e. watching body language and reading expression get lost. It is a challenge to hear what is not said in a text message or email! We need to continue to push face-to-face conversations if we truly want to accomplish this! Thanks for a thought-provoking post! Love your blog!
This rings very true – as leaders, we really need to listen to what someone is not saying just as much as what they are saying. Then, we can ask the appropriate questions to really peel back the layers and understand what the person is really thinking and feeling.
Would love to read what Mark has to share.
I was once told that listening means to keep your mind free of thoughts while the other person is talking. Most of the time when we listen to someone talk, we are already formulating a response in our head on what we are going to say back or pondering what they are saying. Actively listening means to stop thinking all together, don’t think about how you are going to respond ,but rather let the other persons thoughts settle, wait a few minutes and then respond. If you are trying to think of how you are going to respond then you aren’t giving the person your undivided attention.
I have always followed the quote; The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear. I use this mantra during meetings when I want to talk, but know that the silence is telling more than if someone were talking.
Would love to expand on this and read your book!
I often find that I have a conversation with someone and then they have the same conversation with someone else but be both come away with a different outlook on the conversation. I often wonder if they just weren’t paying attention or if I missed something. But I have a tenancy to watch more visual cues – I wonder if they are missing that space between the lines?
I would love copies of the book – thank you!
Love the idea of the space between the notes — that really resonates!
As I always say, listen as though it will never be your turn to speak.
I am a musician and a school administrator. The best musical example of listening to spaces between notes is John Cage’s 4′ 33. It is all about the music of the world around us that we don’t normally listen for.
Silence is Golden!
Wonderful analogy between music and leadership. The great leaders I have known are always great listeners and lifelong learners as well.
Everyday I read the Leadership Blog and learn new insights on leadership everyday. Leadership Freak has kept my interest since day one when I started reading the leadership advice.
Great post! And there’s a lot to be said in general about what’s NOT on the page at all – all musicians add their own interpretation to what is written – that’s what makes great music.
Listening gives a leader the ability to learn where the team is where they’ve come from, and direction they’re heading.
A great analogy, the spaces between the notes are part and parcel of how the piece is played, lending to the mood and intention of the music. The same goes for any discussion, listening to not only to what’s said, but how its said provides greater understanding of what contributors are bringing to that table.
I’ve played music for years and know what is being reflected here. A good musician knows the music. A great music feels the music.
Appreciate your insight into actively listening to what’s not said as well as what is. For me, the challenge is to avoid making too many assumptions and to play things back to ensure non-verbal cues are not misinterpreted. What are your thoughts on this?
Thank you very much, I enjoyed the article. Listening entails focusing in on what is being said to you, not just waiting for them to finish so you can reply. One technique I learned was to close my eyes, to take away the visual distraction. It really makes you focus on what is being stated.
Its been said by others here but it deserves repeating. When someone is talking and you are thinking or planning your response. Then you are not listening. If you are not listening then you will miss all the subtle parts of what they are REALING saying. As a leader you need to be looking for all those other clues such as facial expressions and voice tone. The best advise as leader I have ever been given is “it is hard but its worth it” and “people are messy”.
This post resonates with me. I had a conversation with my boss last week about listening to what isn’t said and if we listen to the feeling in the message as opposed to the words. Thank you for the daily encouragement.
Great insight there, Mark! Much appreciated!
I would love a copy. I always enjoy reading anything I can on leadership.
Great thoughts. Listening opens the pathway for compassion and change.
I have frequently challenged myself, my staff and my kids on the concept of, “never underestimate the power of silence.” In our discomfort we feel the need to fill the voids with words rather than take the time to reflect on what you just heard. Don’t get me wrong, I am not an expert by any means. However, I have found silence to be a powerful tool, especially in contentious situations. Love Mark’s books. I have the Heart of Leadership in my library and have probably handed out a dozen copies. Trying to learn the concept of “Expecting the best!” has become a personal goal.
I love this article! I have been working on my listening skills over the years and think that I am much better at it now that I have been in the past. This article has given me a different perspective and another way to approach it. My favorite part is the end of the article, “Listening to the Spaces”. Thank you for this article and I would be thrilled to win a copy of your new book, “Leaders Made Here: Building a Leadership Culture”.
I’m listening! Great article! I have to practice this skill every day.
Great challenge in the post. Listening is important but more important is knowing what to take action on for both the “spaces” and the notes in the conversation. A sense of urgency can convey around matters can convey just as much value as active listening.
Thank you for this post. We tend to forget that silence or “space” is powerful and allowing ourselves to analyze and pull in the silence makes us better.
I hope that the massive response show how many read this blog everyday but just respond that often. Maybe you should offer a free book once a month?
Great article and thoughts, including a spot-on response by Dan. Listening is certainly the most underrated leadership attribute, and this is helpful stuff. I always enjoy Mark’s insights. Would love a copy of this book!
One of the best leaders I have had taught me the value of a pause and silence in a conversation. A skill to definitely grow and learn from.
John Cage’s 4’33” comes to mind.
New reader to the blog and really enjoying it. Would also love a copy
I am certainly going to practice the “wait for 3 seconds” idea! I often wonder if I speak too much and listen too little, this could be life changing!
I have been reading this blog every day for months. I am a young leader and could use all the leadership advice and books available.
Thank you for your guidance.
Love this post! If someone wants to become better at this skill, I recommend becoming a teacher or corporate trainer for a period of time (night classes at the JuCo?). You learn over time to listen to the question behind the question or the INTENT of the question, not just the words. That skill has translated extremely well as a leader to organizational meetings, team meetings, and one-on-ones. Even mentoring can help refine this skill, as people new to a culture, skill, or role ask questions without full understanding of the context. Recognizing that gap can help you both understand your work-world better.
Nice post, Mark!! Love the new/old idea’s brought up daily.
Nonverbals are great. Look at their eyes, listen to the inflection. So much more is typically said by the nonverbal cues than the verbal ones.
Thanks for this valuable post – I can relate to the analogy of listening to music as I played in an orchestra in school. Listening is such an important tool in leadership that seems to have become lost.
As in publishing, the white space counts when it comes to listening. Great post!
When people complain to you or verbally attack you, they are telling you a lot about what is going on in their lives. So, free up your emotions to listen by telling yourself this is less about me and more about them. Then listen.
Listening is wholly unappreciated in today’s world.
In order for me to be “able” to listen better and use the techniques described I have to be able to control my week and my day otherwise I am overwhelmed with stuff and overloaded. When that happens I can’t be calm and patient and listen as I should. I’ve found that I can control what I do by being more organized and by pacing my self in all I do. Then I can take the time to just listen to what is going on and what is not. I am so much more effective in what I do and what I contribute and how I can steer others when I do so.
I am a Helitack Superintendent for the USFS. In short, I lead, manage and supervise 14 wildland firefighters, a helicopter, pilot, mechanic and fuel truck driver to support wildland fire suppression nationally. We work in environments that are high tempo, involve elevated risk and work with a wide diversity of people.
This post resonated with me for several reasons. In my field, there are a lot of dominate personalities. A challenge I see is dominate personalities applying pressure to passive or inexperienced employees. They can ignore a persons body language, tone of voice, or intent of conversation (which help us encode a message) because it dose not match their logic or support their decision making. The most disappointing aspect is that a more passive individual may only say that important message once before they lose their comfort to speak.
People speak differently under stress, fatigue or when performing different functions. Not speaking can be productive or can represent disengagement and hidden conflict. In my business, what I don’t see or hear is an unidentified hazard and can cause harm. By practicing my hearing between the notes, I am granted the gift of being proactive and making change while maintaining an inclusive environment.
Thank you for your post and I appreciate hearing leadership perspectives that are of different influences.
Great piece on Real Listening. Reminds me of my wife getting upset when I wasn’t really listening but could repeat back the words that she had spoken. Real listening involves an awareness of the whole person that is communicating with you!
This is so true, and is the cornerstone of effective coaching. In fact, I believe that much more is “said” non-verbally than with words. Our brains are wired to subconsciously pick up on even the smallest micro-expression. If we are open to focusing on these cues, and bringing them to our conscious level, our interactions with others will be much richer.
I am a musician in a leadership position at a University. I have always taught our music students that silence also has musical impact. My career has been spent listening and developing leaders. I would be very interested in adding a copy of this book to my collection on leadership.
Great insight! When we truly listen to others by stopping what we are doing and making eye contact throughout the conversation, we eventually build an environment of trust and one that is emotionally safe for the other person. I value any leader that listens to me in this way and my hope is that I do the same for others.
Helpful analogy! REALLY listening is a skill I continuously strive to improve. People sense when they are really being listened to and barriers come down which leads to more effective communication.
I completely agree. In fact, this type of mindful listening is the cornerstone of coaching. Our brains are wired to subconsciously pick up even the smallest micro-expression. If we are able to focus our listening on these non-verbal expressions and bring our awareness of them to our conscious mind, our interactions with others will be much richer. As a musician, I know that the moments between the actual notes on the page are all part and parcel of the piece as a whole and give it, its unique expression. The music would not exist without them!
Hey Dan thank you for this article on listening more and thinking more critically about the situation/person/conversation rather than just hearing and repeating what was said. I always enjoy the feeling when I connect more deeply with what someone is saying or trying to say and I feel this speaks to the heart of everyone; they just want to be heard and might not know how to express their thoughts.
You are describing “Listening Fluency”. We so often have a mental checklist of things we want to hear but fail to be open to things we don’t wish to hear but are mission critical. Thanks for this reminder.
I have heard it said before, but not quite in that way. It was a great illustration to solidify the idea in my mind. I would like a copy of the book!!!
I agree… the value listening is Infinite…..
Listening in the silence is a difficult skill to learn. I find myself spending a lot more time learning that skill now more than ever. I wonder if it is because maturing as a leader or because it is the latest thing.
Great points – listen with ears, heart and intuition- the silences and where they occur are messengers if you pay attention
Please – I would like to win a book!
Joyce Shields, MS PRCR Program Coordinator Learning Development and Risk Management City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department Box 590, Municipal Building, Room 608 222 West Hargett Street Raleigh, North Carolina 27602 Mobile phone: (919) 594-4108 firstname.lastname@example.org
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“Allow silence. Don’t fill the spaces with your own words”…ouch! Good point!!!
The spaces do create the music as much as the notes do. I’ve found that true in my work. Sometimes we need to just listen and process. We need to give our colleagues permission to listen and pause as well. Great post.
I would love a copy of the book.
I’ve been reading The Power of Habits by Charles Duhigg and working to include these techniques in my work life. Building mastery sounds like building a habit. I try to make it a habit to listen to people and jotting down a quick note when I am interrupted so I don’t keep fading out of the conversation trying to remember what task I was working on.
I think listening is the hardest to do as a leader because we are so focused on solving problems that come up that we forget to listen to those we lead.
Silence, “the space between notes” is where real creativity occurs, it is the proverbial blank canvas for ideas and understanding
One way to listen to spaces is to get these spaces said out loud. As a leader, being authentic and frank minimizes the spaces and encourages others to say what they would have chosen not to. The less spaces leaders themselves have, the less spaces others would probably also have.
Thought Provoking! I would add that in listening as an active skill requires us to shut down our internal response system. Too often we hear something we disagree with and have at that moment disconnected from the conversation to formulate our reply. Those spaces between the words are crucial and if you are not fully attuned to what is going on you will miss where the most crucial points are. Truly hear the entire statement and then take a moment to analyze and then speak based on what you’ve really heard. Don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions.
Thanks for all the leadership strategies you share. This guest post lives up to what I expect from your blog. Always thought provoking. I would love to read the book and would enjoy a copy.
Short questions that in no way offer advice or judgment give me the best opportunities to keep listening. And lots of practice in being silent, which is essential but not easy for me. My usual go-to is “tell me more” but I also like Michael Bungay-Stanier’s “and what else?”
I also continue to work on my listening skills. In the past I have been told I might “hear” what is said but not “listening” to what is said…the older I get, the more I try to listen and learn…spaces…hummm…that is a new concept. If I don’t win a book, I will definitely, purchase one! Thank you for sharing!
I enjoy the daily focus on growing as a leader. Practicing patience and absorbing all the subtle cues that often get missed makes us better.
I struggle to sit quietly(especially during interviews) and listen to what others have to say. Learning from others and about what’s important to others is a place I want to grow. Thank you for posting everyday. I admire your words and lists and find them very helpful/
It’s about empathy. It’s about truly, in your heart, wanting to make a difference in that person’s life that day. Not your life. Some folks will read all the material, go through all the fancy steps, take all the glory and still are not able to convey empathy. Not everyone has the gift. It is a blessing if you embrace it and are able to use it regularly in your day to day life. Unfortunately, some use it as a sales pitch. People can generally feel and see through that. I very much agree with the fire supervisor. I was in that career for 20 years. I loved it and it loved me.I experienced the thrill of commitment, the power of anonymity, the heartache of tragedy and the satisfaction of rescue. For many, the ugliness of politics can also diminish the passion. I still serve with a dedication to community and pure heart. Relationship building is my craft. I mentor and coach others who at times are mesmerized by the way our company operates. At the end of the day, I always chose empathy. That means you will strive for clarity – not necessarily agreement.
If your mouth is in use, you aren’t able to use your ears. This is a maxim that I taught our son at an early age. I often find that I have to use this with others in the workplace as well.
This can definitely get difficult when there are many time sensitive items and projects going on and you want to get the information and move on. I force myself to ask others “what do you think” so that I focus on listening to their thoughts before providing my own. It helps me slow down and truly listen. Hopefully I am catching some of those spaces when I am doing it.
These posts are extremely helpful and insightful. Thank you for the empowering words each and every day. I have also thought of listening within spaces…much like how a campfire is built. The space inbetween the wood is just as important as the wood itself….thank you!
The space in between is so powerful! Not only listening to the words, but the non-verbal body language and tone is really where the message comes out. We’ve all heard the Mehrabian Study stats…communication is really 55% body language, 38% non-verbal, and only 7% of the words actually used!
Do an unnatural thing. Shut up and listen. I do not mean the kind of listening where you formulate your oh so wise response while the other person is talking. I mean the kind of listening where you can reflect back to the speaker what was said and then give your response.
Listening to the spaces is critical when you are involved with coaching someone, trying to improve. It is too easy to solve their problem. Listening allows you to ask the right questions.
Mindfulness and being aware of the space in between the notes was an aha moment for me after reading your blog. Thank you
By becoming a better listener, you will improve your productivity, as well as your ability to influence persuade and negotiate. What’s more you’ll avoid conflict and misunderstandings. All of these are necessary for workplace success:
1. Pay Attention – Give the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge the message. Recognize that nonverbal communication also “speaks” loudly.
2. Show That You’re Listening – Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention.
3. Provide Feedback – Our personal filters, assumptions, judgements, and beliefs can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said. This may require you to reflect what is being said and to ask questions.
4. Defer Judgement – Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message.
5. Respond Appropriately – Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting him or her down.
I just discovered your blog a couple weeks ago and love the great, practical advice. I need to find time to explore all of the older postings but am loving the recent ones!
Listening isn’t just a leadership skill – it is s relationship skill. While having strong relationships with those were aspire to lead is important, I suspect it’s even more important to be able to truly listen to those we love – or partners, family and friends.
Or is leadership just life? 🙂
Listening without inserting your own words or stories is so important… as is listening to what’s not being said through body language or carefully chosen words. Too often we listen to respond instead of really hearing what the other person is trying to convey overtly or not.
“Sing the spaces!” As a performer in my earlier life, my teacher taught me the spaces are just as important as the notes. Sing through to the next note. Pause with expectancy through the rest. Give time at the end of the piece for it to be absorbed by the audience. Don’t let your accompanist rush you. You lead the accompanist.
All of these show that even the “blank spaces” in the music are important to the whole piece. Make sure your thoughts are tied together before voicing them. Pause for someone else’s response with expectancy that they have something important to add. Give your listener time to internalize the message to make it more meaningful. Don’t let your schedule dictate your message or the response of the people you are delivering the message to.
Be as grounded and present in the moment as often as you can.
I have been trying to listen to both sides of an issue no matter how badly I may want to charge in after listening to only one side. I have found I make better decisions based on hearing what is not being said by either side rather than what I hear. Helps me to know the context better.
Recently I realized I will sometimes react to what wasn’t said instead of mining what was said to bring out clarity and a voice to what wasn’t said.
I recently completed a coaching course and the most valuable thing I learned was how to listen, to give people space and time to actually think and speak without interruption.
For people new to this the first step I recommend is to have a beverage handy, and every time you ask a question take a sip, this will give the other person at least a second to respond without your interruption or judgement, which is more than most people get in their daily lives.
Developing good listening skills is definitely a trait that we all could use more work in. Thanks for sharing!
I agree with the statement about listening between the notes. Much harder than it appears. Unfortunately, in this very compresses society we are eager to “fix” the problem and not allow it to sit for a bit and really take in what is meant between the notes because we are on to the next problem. I would love a copy of the book.
Listening is both discipline and art in motion. It requires full attention of both left and right brained engagement. Love seeing a blog on it. Leaders need/should do more. Thanks.
This is a great read indeed! Thanks for the free book offer. My listening has certainly improved, already.
So good! I am working with this myself and with a few of my teammates. Will also be using this in my preaching on marriage… When men and women learn to listening to the spaces and the rests with their spouse the sheet music will be even more amazing!
Listening to the whole comment before answering. You can watch people formulating an answer before you even finish speaking. It reminds me to listen to the end before answering.
This is very old ‘news’. Torah chanting specifically has tonal variations and stops to indicate emotional content of what is being sung in addition to the cognitive content. That is why there are no punctuation marks in Hebrew. One has to listen more attentively.
Great points! You speak to the reason that listening to a live presenter is so often much more powerful than simply reading his print material. The spaces and other nonverbal are a powerful part of the communication process.
As I’ve worked to implement better coaching practices, I’ve seriously focused on using the power of the spaces. Asking a question and then letting the silence hang there as the one I’m coaching wrangles with how to answer is far more effective and beneficial than filling the silence myself, even though that felt far more comfortable to me when I begin intentional leadership coaching. Silence produces real results, and some powerful growth moments.
Are there verses, intros, refrains? What is the tempo the time and the key of the conversation? These can all tell you much and more about what is being said.
Would love a copy! I strive to be a great servant leader and enjoy learning and utilizing best practices from different theory.
Listening is an art of it’s own. When someone truly “listens” they see the real person. Thank you for this article. Would love to have the book.
Be in the moment and focus. If you are thinking about what’s next or how to respond, you cannot listen. I try to remove all distractions — especially visual and mental ones. I also like to ask, “what’s behind this statement?” If I can get to the root of their ideas, I can often help them find clarity and they feel deeply valued because I understood them (not just their ideas).
I appreciate your blog. It is insightful and written in an engaging manner. You add deep thought on many topics. Thank you.
Throughout my life I’ve worked to be a better listener because I wanted other people to know I cared about what they are communicating. I’ve never been good at hearing what’s not being said or even atttemping it. So far to go but this book is now on the radar as one I’d like to read.
Our Lives are filled with Music. To be able to listen well to what’s playing
is the ultimate tool for everyone.
Would love to share this with my team here in Australia!
I’d love one! Thanks for the opportunity!
Would love a copy continuously trying to learn more as a young youth pastor to grow more and more in leadership!
As leaders, we sometimes try to sooth our conscience by telling ourselves that we listened to what they said (ie. their words), all the while knowing that we’ve ignored what they were really trying to communicate. We so often fixate only on what was actually said as if that really mattered!
Most listening is anticipatory. Daniel Kahneman (Thinking Fast, and Slow), would likely argue that our biases cause us to attribute existing narratives to what people say to us, rather than to listen to what they are saying in its own right and on its own merits. Challenge yourself to think deliberately, not automatically, about what you hear others saying.
My African culture has amazing ways of listening to intuitions at a much deeper level. Some of it is difficult to put in writing unless you immerse yourself.
Receiving a copy of the book will be such a pleasure!
I find that when I speak to my staff, I make a conscious decision to listen to their words and their assumptions. I’m sometimes told that the culture of our organization is poor, but I don’t necessarily agree. I have data points that would argue otherwise. So when I am speaking to someone who is telling me that the culture is poor, I listen for the specifics to reflect for accuracy but also the assumptions. Is that staff member speaking for the team or just themselves? What is the person I’m speaking with possibly assuming about my perception? Isn’t interesting how a conversation sometimes is not over until the reflection is finished sometimes hours later?
Great Article, would love a book
True listening come when we are not in a hurry to give an answer, but instead when we seek to understand, to put ourselves in the position of the other person. It means asking ourselves, “How does this person feel?” This can only come when we stop and focus on the one speaking, not in formulating our own response.
Simple thought. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Working on being an active listener is being fully engaged. It is ok to pause and formulate your response AFTER listening. Too often we are thinking of our response while someone is talking and miss things said…or not said. Excellent point of listening to the silent language of communications. Thank you for the suggestions.
I think for most leaders, our biggest challenge is being quiet long enough to allow some silence to exist! Thanks for the opportunity to enter the book give-away!
Tips on listening: when I started my mindfulness practice I became better at tracking each breath. This allows me to be fully present and not give in to a busy wandering mind.
What a great post on listening! I think that you need to be in the moment when you are listening so that you are actually hearing what is said and not thinking of your response while the other person is still talking. I would welcome the opportunity to read this book and apply it to my personal and professional life.
perhaps try to extend the song with AWE. (by asking And What Else)
Listening is much deeper than just hearing. It is seeking to understand, to put yourself in the speaker’s place. Experience has taught me that seeking understanding and meaning reaps much more than putting together your response to what the speaker is saying….SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND!
I too am working to perfect the art of listening, and would be interested in receiving a copy of the book for some more insight.
Ahhh … like reading between the lines … I like this analogy better … the space between the notes. Some notes are harder to listen to than others. That’s why when hearing difficult ‘notes’ you have to concentrate on the spaces in between … what is not being said. Read the style of notes and how they are being played. The spaces and what is not being played is critical to get the true meaning to the ‘notes’ that you are listening to.
Great point, apply that to leadership. Every employee brings their own skills, they play their own instrument if you will. If you don’t know what your employee plays or how they communicate you will never be able to lead them. Good insight I hope you got a book.
This post hits home for me! I have been working on listening to hear, not to respond for the past few years. As a musician I completely understand the relationship with seeing/hearing the a complete frame. Every frame works together as a whole – you have to know how all of the pieces of a frame work together in order to play the right tempo and notes. One crucial comment I would like to make is how important it is to know and understand your team. If you don’t know them you will never be able to hear what is not being said. You have to know the patterns of your people, how well they do, what pressures they are facing and so forth. If you don’t truly understand how your team works as a whole you will never “hear” them. Great post!
It is so true. We need to be better at hearing what is not said. I read your blog daily and would love a copy of the book.
Thank you for your posts, they are always informative and help me to become a better leader. Also, thank you for the opportunity to win a copy of the book – sounds like another great resource!
Something sprang to my mind when reading this today: “for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” – Matthew 6:8
Thank you for what you do. You have made a tremendous impact on my life and my leadership. Keep up the great work. This thought to listen to the spaces is quite valuable. Thank you.
Always enjoy your articles
While I agree with most of what is said here, I feel that sometimes listening too much can be dangerous and cause unnecessary stress. I have found (working in a male dominated field, as on of two females) listening between the lines can cause hurt feelings and misunderstandings — I guess what I’m trying to say is, one should always go a step further when listening and something doesn’t feel right ask, the worst thing (in my experience) is assuming how someone meant something and being completely wrong. I genuinely believe that some of this is due to the difference in which men and women communicate.
We spend most of our time listening, but we often don’t do it very well. It’s been a work in progress for me to avoid interrupting and hearing the other person completely. This is a great reminder to pay attention to more than what’s being said. Always appreciate your wisdom.
Very insightful. I believe that so much more is often conveyed in what’s not said – the unspoken, but obvious messages conveyed via a facial expression, a smile or smirk, a laugh or sigh or silence that we might miss…I believe this notion of listening to the spaces points us towards embracing the intuitive part of ourselves that aids us in making connections and communicating with others.
Love your posts and would love the book. Thanks
Remembering to pay attention to the feelings and non-verbal messages being sent when listening is key. The words being used only make up 7% of the conversation (Mehrabian) so if we ignore the feelings and non-vebals (the silence) we are missing the majority of the conversation. Addressing only the spoken words doesn’t resolve the issues. Loved the music analogy!!!
Allowing the space for silence and thought is difficult, but so critical! As a side (well, maybe not even a side) benefit, silence before speaking demonstrates that the speaker was truly listening, and not simply waiting to respond!
Nice post, and great analogy. Too many people love to hear themselves talk.
Great article and insight!
I save and share so many of your posts on leadership, and this is another keeper. I was struck by the person’s comment about how people often seek not to understand but to position themselves to respond – I’m definitely going to use that concept with my management team.
Very good insight! Thanks for sharing – hope I’m a lucky winner!
Deep Listening (leadership & coaching) like music requires regular Practice, Practice, Practice!
well said :the space matter as much as the notes:))
I appreciate your blog posts and also recall a post you made back in 2010 where you gave us three strategies to use. I found this a few years after you posted them, but are certainly still applicable… Thank you for my daily mindfulness nudge!
Three ways to hear what isn’t said
Some are skilled at speaking in ways that sound innocent or helpful when they are actually selfish and unhelpful. They use quiet tones and cover their intent with compliments. Frequently they flatter. However, if you wait for the smoke to clear you’ll see they are protecting their own turf, passing the buck, or blaming others.
Every statement or question stands on an assumption. For example, I hear statements built on the assumption that I’m responsible to fix something when I’m not. Or, you may hear accusations built on the assumption you were responsible for failure when you weren’t. Worse yet, you may hear organizational plans based on false assumptions from poor market research.
Is the person turned toward or away from you? Not long ago I was in a meeting where a person spoke to me while being turned toward someone else. What they said was for the benefit of another, not me. In addition, hear eye movement.
As a cellist of 40+ years, I’ve learned that practice does not make perfect. Practice results in more practice. I can make an inexpensive cello sound great but it requires continual practice. What do I listen for? I listen for the note to resonate with the other notes around me.
I would love a copy of this book. I am retiring after 36 years in education and 14 years as a building principal. Next year, I will be mentoring principals as a retiree.
I recently came across this blog and delighted I did! It’s very encouraging and causes one to pause and reflect on behaviors and self.
I was reading your leadership tips they’re very helpful. Thank you so much for posting such a great and valuable topics to help people growth in leadership.
Brilliant advice. Counting till three before speaking and understanding the assumptions of the speaker are very important!
Brilliant post! Love the advice on counting till three seconds and understanding the assumptions of the speaker!
“Give every man thy ear but few thy voice.” One of my favorite lines from Hamlet that I read before going into critical conversations and facilitating dialogues and discussions.
Great insight! So many leaders talk way more than listen, and trying to determine what’s not said is something we can all aspire to. What are the best questions to use to make sure what is assumed unsaid is really true? Often it seems that this is a sensitive area for the speaker and not comfortable to discuss.
Great post. Thanks for sharing!
Great analogy to music. Thank you.
Assuming is never ok especially in a commutation setting. We have to come to a mutual understanding.
In communication, assuming what the next person is saying is a negative move
As a musician and a leader myself, I find music an excellent metaphor for both leadership and teamwork. Particularly when you play with others, there are times when you take the lead, and times when you give someone else the spotlight. But always, always, you have to listen to the others in order to produce a pleasing result. That’s what makes the great bands great, regardless of the genre. If you know what to watch for, you can see the eye contact and other subtle cues that they are listening and following each other.
So glad someone is acknowledging the silent communication.
Love what Mark talks about here.
We live in a culture filled with white noise. Most often, having silence span more than a minute of time will be interrupted because someone, if not everyone, is uncomfortable. Listening in the spaces takes effort, time, patience, and self discipline. If you choose to listen in the spaces, you will hear secrets, desires, needs, and truth. Good musicians play and sing with exceptional phrasing. It’s the rhythm of notes in addition to the spaces that create anticipation, motivation, and passion.
There’s listening, and then there’s hearing. The notes on the score, much like the words that people speak, only tell part of the story. You learn the whole story when you learn to hear, namely to look at not only the spaces between the notes, but also the dynamics that the author has put into the score as well. The same is true in a conversation – if you want to truly listen, you not only have to pick up the blank spaces between the words; you also have to pick up the dynamics of what the speaker is conveying. And that comes form understanding tone, pitch, intonation, and, of course, body language.
For me, the bottom line of this piece – and I continue to greatly appreciate Dan’s insights – is that things must be appreciated in an integrated, holistic manner. To me, listening is only one part of hearing. Mush like music, simply playing the notes is not bring the music to life. The spaces in between the notes, the dynamics, the intonations are equally important.
Disclaimer – I was a trumpeter for many years, so this particular article struck a chord with me (no pun intended).
Dan – keep up the great writing.
I find it interesting that listening is one of the most fundamental skills of life and yet we never receive training and instead rely on our experiences with others (parents, teachers, friends etc) to fine tune our listening skills as we grow. I love the idea of listening to the spaces as well as the notes (words). I think we need to be present in the moment to really listen and also ABSORB which includes: being Attentive, noticing Body language (and tone of voice), Stop doing other things, Open to what is being said (not judging), Repeat through paraphrase and Becalm the gremlins (the voices in our head). I also believe we always have a choice of how we listen to another – from not listening to judging to being open to what is being said and being open is where we notice the spaces and the notes as if we are listening to a spectacular symphony.
Thanks for the great post.
This takes Active Listening to a higher level.
This is excellent. I’ve often referred to this concept as placing a focus on the white space between the letters on a piece of paper…
This type of active, deep listening is so important. It might help to prompt a question like, can you define what you mean by “it?” Or, can you share a few more words, a few more adjectives to describe what you mean to ensure we really understand what you are communicating? White space listening allows us to hear the whispers of someone’s heart and gut… and expands a message beyond the thinking that originates in someone’s mind.
Thank you so much for sharing!!
It would be nice to see more people using and practicing listening. But, for some it is hard to do because they have quiet down their own thoughts in order to hear what the other is saying and for others it is easy and natural. I believe that this technique would be so productive in Government and the workplace. It can work with everyday relationships as well, even the difficult people that occasionally come into our lives.
Very good skill to have.