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On listening to understand


In an increasingly cacophonic world, our heads become filled with noise: the never-ending buzz and rumble of minds constantly projected onto the next thing; towards the future.

We each live in our own bubble, in our own headspace.

Amid conversation, we often find ourselves focusing less on the other person than on our internal monologue, that voice telling us what’s next.

As we wait for our turn to speak, our mind races as the other speaks: we’re listening to reply rather than to understand.

A breathing space or silence becomes an opportunity to intercede and fill with whatever we’re mulling over. No need to pause, think, wait, ponder or consider what the other person is really trying to communicate.

We assume to understand with clarity where they’re coming from, what their experience or insight is.

But communication isn’t a one-way street: it’s a feedback loop where listening is the ying to talking’s yang. So we project, impose our own ideas, thoughts and feelings onto others.

And we cannot help being like this at work too.


The thing is, an organisation is the sum of all its parts: a reflection of everyone within it.

And many organisations have an inward-looking default setting: self-important and, at times, even self-indulgent and self-obsessed. Egotistically led by those who assume to know best: better than the people they’re supposed to serve.

Just build the thing and they will come.

Just put it out there and the ‘public’, ‘customers’, ‘whomever it may concern’ will pick it up and work it out for themselves.


To respect others is to listen to them, see things from their perspective, understand their needs. Listen from a place of curiosity, empathy and kindness, without preconceived ideas.

How can we build more empathetic, humble and considerate organisations, ones that listen rather than tell by default?


Because listening makes us learn. Listening makes us understand. Listening makes us find common ground.


As Epictetus said, “we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak”.


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