The Art of Listening
By Ariel & Shya Kane
teach courses all over the world and have discovered that whatever
the culture, whatever the language, people often donít really,
truly listen. Listening is often perceived as a passive act. The
two of us have discovered that when Ďtrue listeningí is present,
satisfying communication is sure to follow. This chapter is
devoted to the art of listening. If you discover those things that
keep you from listening, you will simultaneously discover many of
the things that get in your way in relationships and in day-to-day
interactions. If you learn the art of listening, you will become
more effective, productive and satisfied in all aspects of your
listening is not something that we have been taught growing up in
our families, amongst our friends or in school. True listening
requires being in the moment. It also requires letting go of your
point of view, your thoughts and your agendas. True listening is
you ever examined whether or not you are truly listening? Have you
identified what inhibits your ability to actually hear what
another is saying with the intention of seeing what he or she
means from his or her point of view? What we are talking about
here is a self-education program.
First you must have the desire to discover how you listen and how
you interact with your life from a non-judgmental point of view.
It is not about trying to change or fix what you notice in the
self-examination of your own behavioral
patterns. If you just notice how you are relating to your life,
that in itself is enough to complete previously disturbing
patterns of behavior. Frequently, there are no other actions
needed. This also applies to the way in which you listen, donít
listen or distract yourself from listening.
person doesnít feel heard, then frustration builds and
misunderstandings are sure to happen. It requires a degree of
openness, however, to actually hear what is being said. There are
impediments to truly listening to your partner. People frequently
are not open to hear simply because they are already involved in a
thought or action. We as human beings can only do one thing at a
time, if we expect to do it well. Making sure you have your
partnerís attention is the best way to start when you are saying
something of importance.
TRUE COMMUNICATION REQUIRES
LISTENING TO HEAR WHAT IS BEING SAID
FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE SPEAKER.
THIS IS AN INTENTIONAL UNDERSTANDING
OF THE OTHERíS POINT OF VIEW.
your partner says, "I really enjoy taking cold showers," and you
think this point of view is stupid, you will disagree and comment
in your head rather than just hear what he or she is saying from
his or her point of view. Often, many of us are so fearful of
being manipulated into doing something we donít want to do, that
we resist hearing for fear that it will be another request put
upon us that we donít want to fulfill.
PRE-OCCUPATION WITH A PROBLEM
you are pre-occupied with a thought or something you consider
problematic, then you canít listen because your mind can only hold
one thing at a time. If you are worrying about something, then you
wonít hear what is being said to you.
two of us were speaking on the telephone with a friend of ours,
Serela. As we spoke, the conversation got more confusing and
stilted while she kept talking faster to answer questions we
hadnít even asked. Things became rushed, jumbled and frustrating.
This was a strange phone call. We wondered what had happened to
make Serela, who just the day before had been calm and centered,
so distracted and jumpy. We asked some questions in an attempt to
solve the puzzling turn of events.
First, we inquired if Serela was sure it was a good time to talk
because she seemed rushed. She assured us there was nothing
pressing in her schedule, there was plenty of time to chat. So we
said she seemed pre-occupied and asked if something had happened
in the last day that had upset her. Serela got quiet for a moment
and then told us that in the middle of the night, her exboyfriend
had called. After telling her how mean she was and how much she
had hurt him and how sad he was because they had broken up, he had
hung up on her. All morning, Serela had been talking with him in
her mind, telling him all the things she didnít have a chance to
say. She was arguing with him mentally as she tried to reassure
herself she wasnít really a mean person.
Serela spoke with us, it was hard for her to really talk and
listen because she was already involved in the ongoing
conversation in her thoughts. When she simply saw that the phone
call from her ex had knocked her off balance, she was restored to
herself and suddenly our communications were clear again.
of us are unaware when we are actually doing something other than
listening. We havenít realized that we are pre-engaged or
pre-occupied so that we only partially hear what is being said and
that partial hearing is almost always inaccurate.
you ever noticed how some people say the same things to you over
and over? That is generally because you didnít really hear them
the first time. Since true listening is an active rather than a
passive act, it requires your full attention. If you are at all
preoccupied while listening to another, they are left with the
feeling that they have not been heard. Which is, in fact, true.
How could a baseball player catch a ball if they already have a
baseball in their mitt? This is essentially what you are trying to
do if you are pre-occupied while listening to another. It is as if
you are trying to catch a communication while your Ďmittí is
FILLING IN THE BLANKS
we discussed in earlier chapters, our minds are like computers and
they can only operate with what they already know. So, for
instance, if you hear a word that you donít already have in your
mental data bank, you are likely to fill in the blank with one
your logic system assumes is the same or a reasonable facsimile.
Here is an example of how it works:
we first moved to our home, we were unfamiliar with the area but
soon found that one of the towns near where we live is called
Flemington. After we moved in, our friend and real estate broker,
Nina, was promoted to a managerial position in a new real estate
office in Flemington Ė or so we thought. For weeks we drove by her
new location and scanned the parking lot, looking for her car. It
seemed as though she was never there. Finally, we called her and
said, "We tried to come by and see you today but you were out.
Boy, you must be busy, we keep driving by and your car is never in
replied, "What do you mean? I was in all day today."
we asked if she had a new car, but no, that wasnít the answer. It
seems we had misheard when Nina told us she had been promoted. She
didnít actually work in Flemington at all. She managed the office
in Pennington. Having never heard of Pennington, our minds just
filled in the blank.
FILLING IN WITH WHAT YOU EXPECT
you are in a relationship with someone, after a period of time,
you believe that you know this person and that you already know
what he or she is going to say. When the first few words come out,
you assume you know where it is going. So, in your mind, you fill
in the blanks with what you expect to hear and stop listening to
what your partner is actually saying. You may be right, most of
the time. But there are times when your partner is about to say
something else and you are not receptive because you already have
the ball in your mitt. Or you may not even hear what is being said
because you think you know it already and have already moved on in
your thoughts. If so, chances are your partner will feel
PROVING YOURSELF RIGHT
this point, we must talk again about the principles of physics,
also the second principle of transformation that says: No two
things can occupy the same space at the same time. If your mind is
already pre-occupied with what you are intending to say when you
get your chance, then there is no possibility that you can
actually hear what is being said to you. And that is on the most
basic level. If you are defending your point of view, then you
wonít want to hear what is being said, as in Rogerís example of
wanting to be paid his 6% right away. When you are defending
yourself, your mind will manipulate what is being said so that you
can disagree, prove it wrong and prove yourself, or your point of
you ever found yourself finding fault with your partnerís use of
words or a particular word, rather than allowing yourself to hear
the essence of what he or she is saying? Frequently, when people
engage in conversation, they are trying to prove that what they
believe to be true is true. And so, when we listen to another, we
are still holding onto our point of view.
IF YOU DROP WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY AND LISTEN,
WHEN YOU DO RESPOND,
YOU MIGHT DISCOVER SOMETHING
WHOLLY NEW AND MORE APPROPRIATE TO SAY
THAN WHAT YOU HAD PLANNED.
IF WHAT YOU INITIALLY HAD TO SAY IS STILL RELEVANT,
IT WILL COME BACK ON ITS OWN.
HOW YOU LISTEN HAS BEEN CULTURALLY INFLUENCED
day, while walking down the street on the Italian Riviera we saw a
three or four-year-old girl having a conversation with her father.
What impressed us was most was how she expressed herself with her
hands. The cultural way of gesturing in that region is to wave
oneís hand emphatically as an extension of the words. The girl
demonstrated a small version of the gestures going on all around
her. She didnít think to learn this way of communicating, it was
absorbed along with the culture.
have also absorbed culturally-influenced ways of relating, which
include not wanting to appear stupid, being right, and trying to
look good. These ways of relating have become filters through
which you listen. So listening is not simply an act of hearing
what another has to say. Each communication goes through a quick
check to see how it might affect our agenda to get ahead, be smart
or look good.
LISTENING WITH AN AGENDA
major inhibitor to listening is oneís agenda. Wanting something
when you talk with another person is not a problem, if you are
aware of it. For instance, as a sales person, if you get paid a
commission for what you sell, obviously you have a preference that
potential customers will purchase something. However, if you push
to meet your agenda rather than paying attention to your
customersí needs, you are sure to turn people off and lose sales.
In effect, going for your agenda often produces the opposite of
the desired result.
People are often much more interested in not appearing stupid than
they are in actually listening Ė as if it would be so bad not to
know something. It doesnít matter what another person is saying to
them, above all else, they canít look stupid so they are
constantly trying to figure out how to respond.
Please donít misunderstand. There is nothing wrong with having an
agenda. If you want a better relationship or more intimacy, for
example, that is not a problem. The problem arises when you are
unaware of your agendas and you are mechanically driven to fulfill
them. If you are aware of the things you want (or donít want) then
you can hold these preferences in abeyance and actively listen to
what your partner has to say.
BREATHING REALLY HELPS
Sometimes you just have to take a nice deep breath and tell
yourself that what your partner has to say isnít going to hurt. It
helps to take a deep breath, relax a little bit and listen without
defending yourself. The ability to listen without defending is a
very powerful tool but it takes self-discipline to allow yourself
to actually hear what another is saying without protecting
yourself or proving your point of view right.
COMPASSION Ė COMPASSION Ė COMPASSION
your partner is telling you about something you did or didnít do
that upset him or her, if you realize that you couldnít have done
it any differently than you did, it is possible for you to have
compassion for yourself. And when we say compassion for yourself
we are talking about a state of grace, of forgiveness. Most of us
have the mistaken opinion that we could have lived our lives
differently than we did, but if you look back, you will see that
everything you did in your life has led you to this point, brought
you to where you are now. Though you may think in retrospect that
you could have done things another way, when you were actually
living through those circumstances, you only did what you could do
at the time. You couldnít have done it any differently in reality.
Perhaps, ideally, you would have done things other than the way
you did, but again, that is in retrospect.
make this point clearer, letís go back to the camera analogy we
made earlier. If we were to take a picture of you with a camera
and you were sitting down and smiling, could you have in that very
same instant of the cameraís shutter opening and closing, been
standing and frowning? Of course not. Well, two seconds before we
took the picture, could you have been different than you were in
that moment? The only answer we can come up with is no. Using this
camera analogy, if you tease it back in time, you can see how
everything that has happened in your life could only have happened
the way it did and not the way you think it ought to have
happened. This opens the door for the possibility for compassion;
compassion for yourself and for others.
philosophy, there is the concept of determinism vs. free will. By
determinism, philosophers mean that your life is predetermined and
you really donít have a choice in the way things are. Free will
implies that you have total choice in the way things are. What we
are saying is that you have no choice in the way things were. You
may have the idea that the way things were should have, or could
have, been different, but the reality is that you have no choice.
Things were the way they were. You may have a choice in how things
turn out in the future, but the past is already written and you
couldnít have done anything differently than the way you did.
only thing useful in thinking you could have done things
differently is if you want to use the past to torment yourself. We
have found that tormenting yourself does not produce great
relationships so we suggest that you donít do this.
REINTERPRETING THE PAST
if you accept our premise that Ďwhat is done is done,í the past is
still open for interpretation. This is where many torment
themselves, thereby fettering their abilities to create magical
relationships. We would like to offer a story to illustrate
There once was an old man who lived in a kingdom and while he was
otherwise poor, he was the owner of a magnificent white stallion.
One day the King of the land rode through the old manís tiny
village and spied the exquisite horse. Being an honorable King, he
offered the old man a fortune to purchase such a gallant steed.
old man thought about the Kingís handsome proposal and said,
"Thank you, Sire, for your generous offer, but I would rather keep
After the King departed, the villagers surrounded the old man.
"Old Man," they said, "what a stupid thing to do. You could have
been wealthy beyond your wildest imagination if you had accepted
the Kingís offer!"
this the old man replied, "Stupid, smart, I donít know. All I know
is I still have my horse."
week or so later, the white horse broke out of his corral and ran
off during the night. The villagers were quick to comment, "Old
Man, what a horrible turn of events. Now you have no horse and no
this the old man replied, "Horrible, wonderful, I donít know. All
I know is my stallion is gone."
week passed and the stallion returned, leading a whole herd of
wild mares with him. The villagers assembled outside of the old
manís corral to admire the mares. "Old Man!" they exclaimed. "What
wonderful good fortune. Not only do you have your valuable
stallion back but you have the great luck of having a whole herd
of mares too!"
Cocking his head, the old man surveyed the stallion and his new
mares and replied, "Wonderful, horrible, great luck, bad luck, I
donít know. All I know is I have my stallion back and the mares
are here, too."
week later, while trying to break one of the new mares, the old
manís only son was bucked off and badly broke both of his legs.
villagers were quick to share their opinions. "Old Man," they
said, shaking their heads sadly, "what an unfortunate accident.
How horrible. If only you had sold the horse then your son would
not have broken his legs. Now who will take care of you in your
old man replied, "Unfortunate, fortunate, horrible or not, I donít
know. All I know is that my sonís legs are broken."
week or two later, the kingdom went to war against a foe with a
much stronger army. All of the able-bodied young men were
conscripted into the army from which they would almost certainly
not return . . .
so the story goes. You can reinterpret any event in your life to
fit your current outlook or agenda. The truth is what happened has
happened, and if you see it and let it be, then you can get on
with your life. What? you might say. Donít I need to make myself
remember and punish myself for wrong doings so that I will never
do them again? No, you donít. If you see something you did or said
in error, and actually see it without judging yourself, then you
have already learned your lesson. Punishing yourself and feeling
badly does not help. If you have truly seen the error of your
ways, you never have to repeat them.
THREE GOLDEN WORDS Ė I AM
doesnít matter how well you communicate, how sensitive you are,
how in love and perfectly matched you are with your partner,
sooner or later you will do something that blows it. When that
happens, there is actually a magic wand that can dissolve the hurt
and restore your relationship. As mentioned in the earlier chapter
on sex and intimacy, truly apologizing can mend a world of hurts.
There are some tricks to having it work and also ways of insuring
that when you do apologize, it will not inflame the situation
more. Here they are:
you say you are sorry, really mean it. There is nothing more
maddening than having someone say they are sorry just to placate
you when they really still think their actions were right. Here is
an example. Try saying these words and see which would feel better
to hear: "I am sorry if I hurt your feelings," or "I am sorry for
hurting your feelings."
your partner sincerely apologizes you must be prepared to accept
it. By the time he or she finally Ďadmitsí the wrongdoing, you may
have a backlog of examples of how he or she did the same thing on
other occasions. Rubbing a personís nose in it will only reignite
the fight and certainly will not make it easy in the future for
your partner to apologize again. If you are punished for being
truthful, you are much less likely to be honest in the future.
may be true, in a bigger sense, that what you do does not hurt,
disturb or upset your partner, but on a day-to-day level, there is
plenty you can do that can have damaging effects. Saying you are
sorry, and meaning it, only hurts your ego, but it can rebuild the
bridge between you and another. Then you can experience being in
love long after the rose of the first attraction blooms and fades.
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Ariel and Shya Kane lead evening and weekend groups in
dedicated to supporting people in living in the moment and having
extraordinary, fulfilling lives. For more information, including
location, call 908-479-6034, or visit their website:
The Kanes are internationally acclaimed seminar leaders and
business consultants whose revolutionary approach, Instantaneous
Transformation, has helped thousands of
individuals and companies worldwide. Their books and audios are
available at local and online bookstores and via their website.