Authentic Listening – Why you need it and how to do it

Are You Listening?

We all have a deep desire to feel understood and want to know others care enough to listen.  As a business owner, CEO, or company leader, you often want to be heard, but you especially need to be a good listener.

Listening is one of the most powerful skills you can have, but often gets overlooked in today’s fast-paced world.  When done right, being a good listener can not only give you valuable information about your employees, customers, stakeholders, and partners, but it also shows you care about them.

In short, listening transforms.



Not just any listening – Authentic Listening

Listening not only helps you understand all the people in your organization, it also helps you understand your own customers and clients better. But this isn’t just listening for the sake of listening – it must be “Authentic Listening”.

The purpose of authentic listening is to understand the thoughts, opinions, ideas and feelings of others by focusing on their agenda rather than yours.

Nearly every person we encounter wonders, either subconsciously or consciously:

  • “Do I matter?”
  • “Do you respect who I am?”, and most importantly
  • “Do you care?”


Ask yourself the tough questions to know what kind of listener you are

So, how do you know if you are listening authentically? How do you know if the people with whom you interact have a positive answer to the above questions? Let’s look at this further, and ask ourselves some hard questions in return:

  • Do people feel better or worse after they’ve interacted with you?
  • Are you even aware how people feel after an interaction?
  • Would people around you say you are a good listener?
  • Do people feel like you’re fully present with them whenever they are with you?
  • Or do you sometimes feel like some people might just be whispering under their breath, “Would you stop rambling?” or “Would you just stop and listen?”

Be humble and honest with yourself when answering these questions – your answers will help you determine if you are really listening authentically.

If your answers are positive, you are probably on the right track – good for you! If your answers are negative, at least you are self-aware and can actively work on improving your listening.

However, if you answered “I don’t know” to any or all of the above questions, then you are in a dangerous position because listening has not been on your radar at all. Read on to help turn things around!


First of all… Just Listen

How many of us feel like we are really listened to – that people really get what we are saying? Unfortunately, the answer is “not that often”. Most people do not feel like they are understood.

As a leader of your organization, listening is one of the most powerful skills you can provide. Part of how we can transform our business is to simply listen. Just listen.

  • Listen to your executive team,
  • Listen to your employees,
  • Listen to your customers and clients.

What you hear matters and can make a huge difference. It matters to your employees, it matters to your customers, and thus, it matters to your company. Just listen. Focus on letting them finish without interjecting and take time to digest what they say – don’t feel you have to answer back right away. Listen…

And more importantly, understand what they are saying. Once you understand their message, often you can make better decisions.  But it starts with authentic listening.


Listen to the facts

According to The International Listening Association (yes, there is such a group):

  • We listen at 125-250 words per minute, but we think at 1000-3000 words per minute.
  • We usually recall only 50% of what we hear immediately after hearing it.
  • We remember about 20% of what we hear. (I’m sorry honey… what did you just say?)

Here are some more startling facts from the ILA:

  • Listening has been identified as one of the top skills employers seek in entry-level employees as well as those being promoted.
  • Physicians interrupt 69% of patient interviews within 18 seconds of the patient beginning to speak. As a result, in 77% of the interviews, the patient’s true reason for visiting was never elicited.
  • Both business practitioners and academics listed listening as one of the most important skills for an effective professional, yet only 1.5% of articles in business journals dealt with listening effectiveness.
  • Listening is tied to effective leadership.


So, what keeps us from listening properly?

There are 3 main barriers, according to the ILA:

  1. Personal disinterest in the top “I hear you talking but all I hear is…blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”
  2. Personal distractions, such as hunger, headache, or preoccupied with something els( In today’s day and age, having a cell phone in your hand is the biggest distraction! Put it away, and listen…)
  3. Inattentiveness such as daydreaming, thinking about what the speaker said and then letting your mind wander about that point rather than actually listening to the entire story, and so on.


Get Past the Barriers and on to Authentic Listening

Authentic listening is a skill that requires practice and concentration. Authentic listening occurs when you respond to the speaker in ways that indicate to him or her that you care about what he or she is saying.

And, you give every opportunity to allow him or her to complete their train of thought. The idea is to let the speaker know without a doubt that you are focusing your attention on his or her words and feelings with the specific intent to understand his or her point.

But that doesn’t always happen. Often we are merely listening for…

  • What we already know,
  • What we agree or disagree with,
  • Our turn to speak, interrupt, or sound good,
  • The answer, the formula, or the flaw in the argumen

Listening authentically goes way beyond just hearing the words another person says. It’s feeling what they are saying without saying it. It’s reading between the lines. It’s listening in the moments of silence.


What Authentic Listening is NOT – Hearing, Active Listening, and Persuasion


Authentic Listening Vs. Hearing

The best way to describe authentic listening is to describe what it is not.

Listening is more than just hearing until the other person has stopped talking so we can share our thoughts with them. Even though many people believe they understand and apply it in their life and work, to truly authentically listen is harder than it first appears.

We must “tune in” to what is not being said, how it is said, and what feelings or emotions may or may not be expressed.

Most of us think we listen, yet we do not always “attend” to the person who is speaking to us. We are too busy doing other things, or even thinking other things while others are talking to us!


Authentic Listening Vs. Active Listening

In seminars and training events about “Active Listening”, you will learn about what you should do to be a good listener. And what you learn is relatively common – ask questions, paraphrase back, acknowledge, be present, be attentive, make eye contact – all good advice.

You emerge from these training sessions, eager to try out your skills, only to become discouraged or confused when someone says you sound phony or mechanical. The problem is this: you are taught what to say, how to sit, what to do – but at the heart of authentic listening is just that – authenticity.

People who are speaking are paying attention not just to your demeanor and attentiveness, but they are also asking themselves if you are really getting it. If you look “staged” or appear to be listening but not genuinely, the words you finally speak will not matter.

What will be communicated is whether you are genuinely curious, and whether you genuinely care about the other person. If your intentions are false, no amount of careful staging, scripting, or good posture will help.

However, the good news is, if your intentions are good, even clumsy authentic listening will not hinder the process.


Authentic Listening Vs. Persuasion

Did you ever have an experience where someone was trying to persuade you rather than just listen to you? Persuasion comes from a place of judgment, and as a leader, you need to train and shift yourself from persuading to learning.

Steven Covey in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” talks about Habit # 5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

That means instead of rushing to persuade someone of something, hear them out first.  Seek to understand what they are saying.

Once you accomplish this, you will not only learn a lot about your people, your company, and your customers, but also yourself. And you will often be able to make better decisions because of it.


What Authentic Listening IS – Be curious, caring, and authentic.

How curious are you about your team, your customers, your employees? What do you think of when you hear the word curious? By “be curious” while listening I mean: You are partnering in the quest of understanding and learning.

The most obvious benefit of listening is learning about the other person. But listening is only powerful and effective when it is authentic.

Authenticity means you are listening because you are curious and because you care, not just because you are supposed to.

So are you curious?  Do you ask questions, and then listen? There is only one sure fire way to understand someone and that is by being curious.  Being curious begins with,

“I wonder…”

Instead of asking yourself…

“How can they think that”?

…ask yourself…

“I wonder what information they have that I do not.”

It might be asking…

“I wonder how I might see the world as such that their view makes sense”?

Our judgments can impair our listening. Opinions have an impact on how we listen to people and have an impact on our relationships.

When you value the person and embrace what they have to say without making pre-judgements, you will be able to listen, learn, and understand more clearly, completely, and authentically. You will offer them a gift – the gift of not only being heard, but being understood.

Still feel overwhelmed? Contact us and let’s have a conversation about how business coaching can improve your team’s communication.


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Cindy Piva is Founder and President of Thrive Business Strategies.