Understanding the act of listening

Listening is an interpretation that the listener makes based on his or her context.

The listening context of every individual is different.

Hence, while the speaker says this one thing, and if there are five listeners, each of the five listeners listens differently based on their contexts and backgrounds.

The listening context of an individual is determined by his/her disclosive space, that is, history, culture, practices, past assessments, body and moods, and emotions.

Listening is a fundamental capacity of leadership.

It is the background structure of interpretation that gives meaning to whatever we perceive.

When two people are in a conversation, three conversations are going on;

  • the conversation between the two people
  • the conversation one person has internally with himself/herself
  • the conversation the other person has internally with himself/herself

Building good communication capacity is to choose what internal conversation you have with yourself wisely.

Because this internal conversation you have with yourself determine1s your conversation with the external person.

And the key focus is also on what listening to you produce in the other person.

This internal conversation that you have with yourself is the assessments that you make up, and that assessments drive your actions and actions drive your results.

Assessments live in the present and shape the future.

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Forms of Listening

  • Listening to make yourself right/to make the other wrong

As humans, we are assessment-making machines.

And we do not even realize that we make assessments, hold these to be the truth, forget we made this up and then listen for evidence to continuously and subconsciously validate this truth.

This is the default listening of people.

When you powerfully create a new future through your declarations, you tune your mind to listen to see how you can make this future come alive.

  • Listening for objective facts

Leaders consciously look for objective facts and do not always depend on their past assessments.

Leaders look for assertions (objective facts) and then make grounded assessments.

They do not depend on their past ungrounded assessments.

Once you have created the new future, you want to engage in listening for objective facts, so that you can use these facts to make new assessments to generate new actions and results.

  • Listening for Care and Commitment

Action comes from commitment, and commitment comes from care.

You can choose to listen for care and commitment of the other.

Leadership is about creating a shared future with others.

This can only happen when we create shared care and shared commitments.

This is why we must listen for care and commitment, and invite others to conversations where we co-create shared cares and commitments in conversations.

  • Listening for Possibilities

There are possibilities all around us, except most of us have not developed the eyes to see these possibilities and the ears to listen for these possibilities.

  • Every relationship is a possibility,
  • Every conversation is a possibility,
  • And every moment offers a possibility.

Humans are so engrossed in listening to make themselves right, that they are losing out on listening for possibilities.

Think of a leader that you admire, and chances are you will see the difference between this leader, and others, is that this leader continued to/ continues to look for possibilities.

If this leader looked for possibilities, guess what he finds/found.


The leader you admire acts/acted on the possibilities that she/ he sees/saw and hence achieves/achieved the results that make/ made her/him the leader that you admire.

People wait for the right opportunity to come by.

Right opportunities do not come by.

You need to ‘listen’ for the right opportunities.

They are all around.

You need to develop the eyes to ‘see’ these opportunities

You need to develop the ears to ‘listen’ to these opportunities.


Conversation is the interaction of human beings that creates action, meaning, listening, moods and emotions, and the future.

Conversations are not just words, but the whole-body reactions that are provoked when we interact in language and when we interact and language is provoked.

They include language, moods and emotions, body reactions and experiences, and the listening that is based on the history of the people in the conversation.

Conversations are shaped by linguistic and cultural practices.

We are now learning, through neurological and cognitive research, that a ‘conversation’ goes deeper and is more robust than simple information sharing.

Conversations are dynamic, interactive, and inclusive.

They evolve and impact the way we connect, engage, interact, and influence others, enabling us to shape reality, mindsets, events, and outcomes in a collaborative way.

Conversations have the power to move us from ‘power over’ others to ‘power with’ others, giving us the exquisite ability to get on the same page with our fellow humans and experience the same reality by bridging the reality gaps between ‘how you see things and how I see things’.

Words are not things rather, they are the representations and symbols we use to view, think about, and process our perceptions of reality, and they are the means of sharing these perceptions with others.

Yet few leaders understand how vital conversation is to the health and productivity of their company

Begin every conversation by first ‘listening’.

It is a myth that you begin conversations by speaking.

You begin conversations by first choosing what you want to listen for.

And you listen for

  • objective facts,
  • care and commitment and
  • possibilities. 

Types of Conversations

If action is a conversation, and if these generative conversations shape subsequent action, then we need to look at the different types of important conversations.

There are several different types of conversations that you have with others. But we will look at three important ones for our daily growth which are;

  • Conversation for relationships
  • Conversation for possibilities
  • Conversation for action

In each of these conversations, here is what you listen for;

Conversation for relationship

To get meaningful and productive results with other people, the first conversation you need to have is, a conversation for a relationship.

Conversations for relationships create a foundation of workability in which people are free to express their concerns and make open requests.

Participants in this conversation relate to each other as a function of their commitments, instead of relating to each other based on the assessments, interpretations, and feelings they have about each other.

Rather than resigning themselves to patterns of defensive behaviour, resentment, or cynicism, they focus on building relationships and opening possibilities through their speaking and listening.

The objective of this conversation is to discover the basis for collaboration between individuals.

What can be a deeper and more powerful basis for a relationship is a shared concern or a shared care about some issue or topic.

For a conversation for relationship to be most effective, you need to discover a shared commitment among individuals in the conversation.

Conversations for relationship require us;

  • to slow down,
  • to do our best to understand one another,
  • to suspend judgment,
  • to be curious and to listen deeply.

We allow our world to be touched and opened, by the world of other people.

Perhaps you can immediately see the difficulties that arise if we dive into action without having this conversation.

Yet it happens all the time.

We declare ourselves ‘a team’ and think we will accomplish our team goals when we have not even figured out whether we care about anything in common.

And then we wonder why our experience of working together feels so lifeless and confusing.

Or, because we cannot tolerate or talk about our feelings of anxiety and urgency, we start to do things before we even know why we are doing them, with all too predictable consequences.

The objective of this conversation is to discover:

  • Shared interest
  • Shared care
  • Shared commitment

Conversations for relationships are integral conversations for parents, for couples, and also for friends to have. An alignment in your cares and commitments is key to having a satisfying relationship.

 Conversation for possibilities

A missing conversation may even be a conversation for possibility.

A conversation for possibility generates ideas for possible action.

Once you have identified your cares, and in conversations for relationships, distinguished shared cares with your colleagues, team members, clients, and family and you engage in a conversation for possibility.

This conversation is conducted in a mood of curiosity and speculation, identifying possible future actions without judging them or committing to them.

Its purpose is to generate a range of possible outcomes, especially including many that are not obvious in habitual frameworks and within current constraints.

To maintain the mood of speculation and generate the richest set of possibilities, the speakers must wilfully refrain from making feasibility assessments and commitments.

The structure for conversations for possibilities includes the following elements.

  • You Listen
  • You Speculate
  • After which you choose
  • Finally, you Declare

Conversation for action

This conversation seeks to address the following;

  • Conditions of Satisfaction
  • Commitment
  • Care (for the sake of what?)


The conversation for action happens inside of the context of the conversation for possibilities, and the conversation for possibilities happens inside of the context of the conversation for relationships.

Conversations that are missing

Talk is powerful and you need to engage in the right conversation at the right time.

This is crucial for your personal and organizational success.

To look for the missing conversation is not a part of our daily reality.

However, if you do not have the results that you want, there are missing conversations that you need to distinguish first and then have with others and with yourself.

If you have different conversations, you can have different results.

And if you want different results, you must have different conversations.

Ask yourself a simple question:

‘What can be a missing conversation in this case?’

By so doing, you set your mind thinking in the direction of looking for a missing conversation, rather than stating ‘this is not possible’, ‘this simply cannot be done’, this is very difficult, and so forth.

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If you ‘listen’ for dissatisfaction in and around your organization, you will begin to distinguish the missing or broken conversations.

With practice, you will not only see the conversations that shape the situation and its actions and results but also begin to have the sensibility to see the missing conversations.

By understanding what the conversations would look like to produce the desired result, we can see the missing conversations in the current situation.

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