Listening to understand

by Jack Warren, host of the Top Coach Podcast

Author Stephen Covey says:

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

Wow. Excuse me while a take a moment to recover from that two-by-four between the eyes. Yeah. Even your humble Top Coach Podcast host, with hundreds of interviews in the books, can plead guilty to this one. It is still true, but less so now that I’ve actually been thinking about this for some years now. Just dwelling on it has made me a better interviewer.

I used to watch Larry King, supposedly royalty in the host/interviewer world, in amazement as he left some obvious (in tennis parlance) sitters at the net, seemingly overlooking the elephant that just emerged from his guest’s mouth and moving right on to the next bullet point on his list.

When you are in a conversation with a player, parent, or member of the school administration, are you really listening? And are you listening to understand or are you just waiting to pounce reply? Umpires are often guilty of just waiting for the coach to shut his mouth so he can tell him where he’s wrong. How about listening to understand what the coach’s concerns are? (I was also an umpire for a few years, so guilty here as well).

In his book on the art of negotiation, Never Split the Difference, author Chris Voss says that most people listen to answer — mostly out of fear that they’ll forget their next point. He says that you can train yourself to really listen and understand and in the process have a better answer and move things along in a much more productive manner.

Believe me, it does take some effort, but it can be done. When I’m doing an interview in person or on the phone, I can take notes without distracting the person to whom I’m speaking or derailing the conversation. This gives me a big advantage. However, with some practice you can actively listen and learn to shelve your next question and ponder what you are hearing. Practice this with people that you routinely interact with. Make a conscious effort to keep your mind open. And if you need a little help, there are a ton of books on the topic.

Jack is available to speak to your team or organization or at your next function. He also provides individual and organizational coaching and consulting. You can get more information on these services at Jack’s professional services site,

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.