Listening with intent to change

I’ve written before about “listening,” which I think of as one of the most important and under-appreciated skills out there.

The learning journey that we are on requires us to truly hear what those around us have to say and to deeply integrate that perspective into who we are and what we do – all while maintaining a strong sense of our own values, grounding and perspective.

But the word “listening” isn’t always imbued with much meaning. Often “she’s a great listener” is meant to imply “she’s caring, attentive, and will be a good shoulder to cry on.”

Listening is much much more than that: it’s an attitude, a mindset, a skill to be cultivated.

Recently, Pat Tierney, an Acumen advisor and a former U.S. Army Colonel, told me about his desire to “listen with intent to change.” I love that. Bringing together “listening” with a specific intent conveys how active, engaged, and ready to act a great listener has to be. A great listener is not a passive receptacle, conveying attentiveness and caring.

Yes, we have to care, but not (just) to convey empathy or support. We care because what is being said matters deeply to us. We care because we enter each conversation with a sincere openness to new ideas. We care because we have a real desire not to reinforce what we brought into the conversation but instead to have our point of view altered by what we are hearing.

As Steven Covey reminds us, so often, when someone else is speaking, we are “listening with the intent to reply,” using the passing seconds to formulate what we’ll say next instead of tuning in to the present moment and to what is being shared with us.

To truly listen required us to begin at the beginning: to listen with intent to change.

And then we must do much more. We must convey, with both verbal and nonverbal cues, that we are present and that we care. We must actually be open-minded, entering each conversation with strong ideas, loosely held. We must, through all of our actions – including what we say and how we say it – set our counterpart at ease, so their truth can unfold.

And, ultimately, we must let new ideas to penetrate us, so that we can translate our intent to change into the slow but inexorable process of long-term personal transformation.

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