LISTEN! (To Be Heard)

communications influence leadership listening relationship Oct 29, 2020

NOTICE:  This post is an edited transcript of the video presentation above.  Because this is an edited transcript, it’s going to come across as very conversational.    

The grammar might be off, as well, because the spoken word comes across VERY differently in writing than it does when we’re hearing it.  I’ve done my best to edit the transcript and make it more readable,…but if you really want the full effect, you should watch the video above.


Several years ago, I was sitting in a staff meeting as my department head stood up to speak.  He was not yelling; he wasn't screaming.  He was actually very measured in his tone, and he was also the junior Colonel on the staff.

But everybody listened from the three-star general on down.     

Everybody paid attention to what he said.     

And, what he said was on point, it was on target.  It had value.     

And I thought that's why everyone listened to him.     

I believe that's a big part of it, but as I've been kind of looking at what's going on in the world, where there are so many people screaming from the rooftops,  “Here’s what I have to say.”

And nobody wants to listen.    

As I thought about that incident, I realized the reason people listened to him, the reason people stopped and paid attention to what he had to say,  gave it thoughtful consideration, was because he had earned the right, not just to speak.     

He had earned the right to be heard.     

He had earned the right to have them give him their attention.     

So many times we think we have earned the right to tell somebody something because of our experience.     

I agree; that's true.     

Experience often gives us the authority.     

It gives us the ability to tell somebody, “Here is a good answer,” but it doesn't grant us access to them.     

It doesn't grant us access to their head or their heart, or even it doesn't grant us access to their attention, because we haven't earned that.     

As I listen to all this cacophony of stuff, it’s just everybody screaming louder and louder and louder in the hope that, somehow, their voice will be heard.     

Most people not taking the time to do the one thing that will gain them access.     

And that's why I put together this post, because I think as veterans, this is a particular challenge for us because in order to be heard, we have to earn the right.

And in order to earn the right,

the first thing we have to do is LISTEN!     

We have to listen to be heard.     

So many times, whether it's dealing with a dealing with your spouse or child or your kids, or a coworker or a boss or subordinate, we know the “right” answer.     

We want to tell them what it is and they don't want to hear it.     

They don't want to listen.     

They do not want to take what we have, and bring it in, because we haven't earned the right.       

We haven't gained access to them.     

There are some things that we can do ahead of time in order to do that.

First off, we need to listen, and here's how it kind of breaks down for me.

The first thing we gotta do is LOOK at them.  And I don't mean just point our eyeballs in their direction, and then mentally head off to The Bahamas.     

I mean, look at them, observe,

What are they saying?     

What are they not saying?     

What's their body language telling us; what is it not telling us?     

Are they smiling?  Are they unhappy?     

Those kinds of things.  Everyone says, “Oh, women have great intuition.”

They do.     

But, it's because they take all this information in.  As guys we don’t.  We may have situational awareness, but often when it comes to the people that are closest to us, that matter the most to us, we think,  “I know, I know what they're thinking.”     

We don't know what they're thinking.     

We don't know what they're thinking at this very moment.     

We can only begin to get some sense of it by taking the time to look, to bring our attention, to focus and really engage with them in that moment.

And you can tell when someone's doing that.  I can tell when someone's looking at me, when they're not just pointed in my general direction; when they've actually focused on me.     

So we've talked about, Look  It's more than just the physical action of having them in my field of view, it's also an act of observing because we have a huge amount of unused capacity in our mind.     

When people are speaking, we can process information so much faster than people can actually deliver it to us through the spoken word.  Why not use that excess capacity to fill out the picture, to actually look at the person?

Which means we have to do something else — we have to INTERRUPT.     

We have to interrupt ourselves.     

We have to interrupt all of those additional thoughts that go on in our head.     

All those thoughts that want to take off in a different direction, or that cause us to jump to a conclusion, “Oh, I know what the answer to that is.”

This was one of the big challenges I had as a Dale Carnegie trainer.  I had all of these other thoughts going through my head,

“Here's, what's coming up next.”     

“This is what we've got to do.”     

“That's a great point there.”    

I finally realized I was much more impactful, I earned greater access to their heart, by making sure that I interrupted all that other stuff, interrupted, everything that wanted to come in from the outside, so I could 

STAY focused on that person.    

I remained there with them.     

It helped me hear the message they were delivering.

And when I talk about staying, it also implies a level of patience because sometimes as soon as someone stops talking, we want to jump in and start talking.     

That's not what this is about.     

We stay with them, let them fill out their thought, let them say what they need to say.     

Let them work through it in as jumbled, as weird a way, as is necessary for them.     

So often, we want to give them the word or give them the sentence.     


I also have a coach, and there is nothing that is more satisfying to me. than when I start on a thought, and they let me formulate my thoughts.

When my coach asks me a good question, and I think, “You know, I hadn't really considered that to that depth before.”      

Or, “I hadn't thought about that before.”     


And sometimes I think it through out loud ,and I'm kind of meandering on my way.     

And then they'll kind of summarize it, and say, “Well, here's kind of what I heard.”     

I'm like, Oh yeah, that's great,

Just their willingness to stay with me.  Accept what I have without judgment.     

Which allows me to really be fully heard so that when they want to offer their perspective, I'm much more ready to take it in.

Because the other thing is we have to TAKE what people say.     

And take it in without judgment.

So often, when somebody says something we don't like, at the first instant that we don't like it, it shows up on her face; or we immediately shut down.     

We’re just like the movie “Get Smart,” where all the doors close and we close ourselves off.     

So we don't hear what they say.     

We just wait for them to stop talking, so we can start talking. 

Sometimes they're going to have good information.  Actually often they're going to have good information.  Most of the time, they're going to have good information.     

Sometimes it may not be as complete as we might.  Or, it might be something with which we might disagree.


We don't have to make a judgment about it.  We just have to take it in and accept it, because that allows us to evaluate it.     

And when we do that, we can more effectively do the next part, which is to ECHO back what they've said.     

I'm not talking about a technique like, “Just say the last three words.”   

Them:  “Well, this is really important to me.”

Us:  “Important to you?”    

That's not what I'm talking about, right?     

I’m talking about after they've had this long and winding, three or four minute “thing,” where they've been trying to figure out their thoughts, we try to distill it down to just a couple of sentences; to really get the essence.     

Because when we say it, sometimes we say what they want to say sometimes better than they say it.     

For them, it’s a great feeling of, “Okay, this person sees me.  They see who I am.  They see where I'm coming from.  They get me.”

And let me ask you,  if you're talking to your spouse and there's that feeling from your spouse, that you get her, or you get him, isn't it much easier to have that communication?     

Sometimes, sometimes the communication is that they're looking for a solution to a problem.  Sometimes they just want to be heard.     

But when we get that, it changes the dynamics.     

It's the same thing with your kids; the same thing with a coworker.     

Sometimes the hardest part is just to take it in.     

We have to realize sometimes it's the emotion that causes the blinds to shut.     

And then when we echo it back, and are able to distill it down, and reaffirm that we weren't just going through the motions, we really do understand what they're saying.     

NOW, we've earned the privilege to be heard!     

Doing all of this doesn’t guarantee they'll hear us. 

But seriously, think about this:     

  • If we've been LOOKING at them and
  • We've been INTERRUPTING our own thoughts that are going to take us away, our own judgment so that we can stay with them.     
  • We've been TAKING in everything they say, we're able to distill it down, and
  • ECHOING it back to them.     

They are, orders of magnitude, more likely to listen to what we have to say.     

Plus, we're going to be able to position  what we have to say in such a way that it lands well with them.     

It's not just about screaming more loudly.     

It's not just about being more forceful and more forthright.     

Those are important.     

(Maybe not the screaming, but being forthright and straightforward and forceful and direct.)

In some cases, those are absolutely critical.     

But if the person never raises the gate, they never opened the door to let us in to let that message in that it doesn't matter.     

We do these things and now we've earned the right to speak to them.     

So, LOOK at them.

INTERRUPT what's going on in your own head.

STAY with them.

TAKE what they have.     

ECHO it back.     

NOW you've earned the right to be heard.     

You do those things.     

Your, your communications will change.     

And your ability to influence people will be dramatically improved.     

Thanks so much for watching.     

If this can serve somebody, send it on, please like it.     

And I'll be doing these pretty regularly.     

So please feel free to come back.     

You folks have a great day.     

Knock ‘em alive.