What Makes a Great Listener? – 4 ways to Create Possibilities and Increase Connection

A Great Listener: The Rarest Resource in the World

Listening is the rarest resource in the world.  When you find it, and if you have enough food and water, you will treasure a great listener above anything else.

Why do I say that?

I say that because when you are provided listening, it opens up possibilities – more possibilities than you may have ever dreamed off; Possibilities that can make you feel, act and be richer than anybody else who has all the money in the world.

1. Great Listener: Quality not Quantity

Listening is not in quantity but in quality.  It is in the refinement and depth of compassion of the listener.  This refinement and depth is infectious and yet hard to describe – you can only speak of it in the moment of the experience.

Trying to describe how well a great listener listens to you is difficult to do – “He was quiet and did not interrupt me” or “She looked at me and kept looking at me in that way that only she can do – without threats, without domination – just being there for me. How does she do that, whilst leaving me feeling powerful rather than drained?”

2. Great Listener: Letting Go

There is no formula for listening because it does not involve steps; it involves a strange ‘letting go’.  The ‘letting go’ of the priority of the agenda you have in mind – of your opinions being a priority, of your righteous advice, and of how you think ‘it’ should go because you know better because ….

Because and because and because – we grow justifications for how we should interact with others.

And then we forget – we forget the most important thing; we forget that our last name is “Being” – we forget our capacity to be and to let be.  To let, allow and grant being to someone who needs it most – in their best and worse hours.  The brain evolved for ‘being’ as a noun and as a verb.

Being a great listener helps you build deep connections.

3. The Brain – a Possibility Machine

This being is expressed in the myriad of possible connections a brain can make; there are about a hundred billion neurons in the brain – each capable of making connections.  It cannot make connections too fast or with every other neuron – that would take too much energy (unless we develop some great technology in the future).

All of these possible circuitries represent possibilities that our brain can think of – quite a large number of possibilities (easily more than all the stars in the universe).

The brain uses these possibilities to determine or catch patterns in the world and to predict or chart a course for the future.  A brain is a possibility machine – a discoverer of patterns and a navigator for the future. 

Each of us is a potential Tony Hsieh in the making, but we also have the potential for creating other Tony Hsieh’s by listening for what is possible for them.

What brain science says is a Great Listener

This same brain is used in listening – whilst listening, you can listen for a person’s future or more of the same past (patterns and connections). 

A great listener listens for both – future and past. 

A great listener is open to other categories (patterns) from which to listen from.  A great listener allows for possibilities to take shape in the conversation – but primarily possibilities to take shape for the person she is listening to.

We mold by allowing the other person to generate the patterns and possibilities and hence future possibilities in their own minds.

4. How and why we dishonor others in listening

This may give pause to some of you (it still does give pause to me).  If we have such power in our listening, why do we dishonor other people so many times by imposing our ideas and thoughts on them?

The reason is that we have payoffs or benefits in disrupting possibilities for others – we get our way, we get to survive in our jobs, we become inflated by our own self-importance, we become right, we dominate others, we avoid being bullied by others, we avoid thinking about our own mortality (which silence can represent) and we avoid embarrassment – this is an abridged list.

The costs of not listening are self-evident – look at all the war-torn areas of the world.   We don’t even have to look that far – look at our own lives and the lives of quiet desperation of millions of ‘quiet‘ sufferers in corporations – complaining bitterly about their work or the politics of the organization.

Are the payoffs worth it?

The takeaway

Your next question is “Well, Sunil what do we do about it? All fine for you to talk about listening.. rambling on as you did – what do we do about it now?”

My answer – Do nothing and say nothing. The next time someone talks, listen keenly.

Listen keenly for what is possible for this person – then ask questions (the best question of all – “What would you like to see happen with all of this?”) or if you cannot think of questions, thank him for sharing and ask for time to ponder questions to get back to him.

Let us start with small steps, but think big vision. Let us start with do-able practices of listening and asking questions and then build for a world where people are empowered and granted being.

Thank you for letting me share.

New thinking necessitates new dialogue which necessitates an honoring of listening: I honor your listening of me.

If you like this kind of creative thinking and wish to learn how to apply this thinking in practical business and in life, please contact me or follow me on LinkedIn.

3 thoughts on “What Makes a Great Listener? – 4 ways to Create Possibilities and Increase Connection”

  1. Sunil, thanks a lot for this selfless sharing; this is great stuff… I would suggest creating a facebook page link for this gem where your ‘friends’ and those who would like your page could generate more traffic, impact, interaction, and feedbacks – facebook style.


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