Listening Exercises Part 2

Before we talk about exercises for Listening with your Brain and your Gut, it would be a good idea to strengthen the focus of our Bonus Brain Time. Follow the link and read that post if you’re not sure what I’m talking about. In short, it’s the ability we humans have to think about our listening while we’re listening.

During your next three conversations ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is my facial expression saying to the person who’s talking?
  2. What is my body language saying to the person who’s talking?
  3. What is the person who’s talking trying to accomplish with this conversation?

Ask yourself those questions while still listening to the person who’s speaking. You actually do this automatically most of the time because of the nature of Bonus Brain Time, but we want to sharpen the focus of this skill so we can harness it to become Super-Power Listeners. After each conversation, write down the answers to your questions. Then decide to do something different with your facial expressions, and body language during the next conversation and add the question, “What differences do I notice in this conversation?”

This exercise has the double benefit of helping focus your Bonus Brain Time (BBT) and improving your overall listening as well. The improved BBT focus will be helpful for the next exercises.

Listening with your Brain

This is a little like putting together the pieces of a puzzle until you get the full picture of what’s being said. The more pieces you have the better your understanding. So, it’s a good idea to constantly broaden your exposure to different things through reading, travel, and interaction with a variety of people. But, I digress. Let’s look at some exercises.

Attend a festival of a culture with which you’re not familiar. Read a little about the culture before you go to pick up a few puzzle pieces ahead of time. Then attend and observe, talk to people, ask yourself questions about the culture and find the answers. Ask questions like, “Why do they greet each other that way?” or, “What does that expression mean?” or, “Why is this food part of their cuisine?”

My family recently attended a festival put on by the local Greek Orthodox Church. There was Greek food, beverages, cultural dancing, and a market. We took a tour of the church and listened with fascination to the history of the denomination and the local congregation.

This kind of activity helps open your mind to how differently people see and understand things and how different does not equal wrong. This expanded capacity allows you to listen with more openness. The more open you are when you listen, the better you will hear what the other person is trying to say.

If you want to take the exercise to the next level, try attending a festival or event where everything is done in language you don’t understand. Learning to “negotiate for meaning” is another good way to grow your ability to listen with your brain.

Listening with your Gut

Some have said that your “gut” is like a second brain so I put these two together in this post. When you listen with your brain you’re paying attention to your thinking. When you listen with your gut you’re paying attention to your body and how it responds to what’s going on around you.

There are two components of listening with your gut. One is identifying your “triggers.” What kinds of things cause you to feel that heat rise up the back of your neck and set your ears on fire? Or, What are the events that give you butterflies in your stomach or goosebumps? An exercise for these is to keep track of your physical/emotional responses to different situations and catalog them. When you can name the responses (fear, anger, excitement, joy, etc) and identify the triggers, you can learn to anticipate them and control them so they don’t create static that prevents you from listening well.

The second component is paying attention to those unexplained flashes of “a sense about something.” It’s those moments, for example, that alert you that you should switch from Empathize to Evaluate in your listening approach. He doesn’t call it your “gut,” but Malcolm Gladwell talks about this in his book, Blink: The Art of Thinking without Thinking. He helps his readers understand how it is we often make accurate assessments of people and situations in the blink of an eye. Gladwell goes on to argue that this ability can be developed.

An exercise for developing this component is similar to the last. Whether you call it your “gut,” your “adaptive unconscious,” your “intuition,” or your “spidey sense,” pay attention to it. Take note (literally) of those times when you get a gut feeling about something. Write it down and compare it to what you learn over time and with experience. For example, in his book, Gladwell tells of an experiment where students watched as little as 2 seconds of video with no volume of different teachers. Their assessments of each teacher’s effectiveness were almost exactly what was given by different students who took the class with that teacher for a semester.

Puzzle pieces and Spidey Sense are powerful allies in Super Power Listening. It’s worth the time to develop them.

3 Replies to “Listening Exercises Part 2”

  1. Jim,

    Isn’t listening a great art form. As you point out, like any art form it starts with ones natural endowment making the practice of the art of listening ( two ears…connected to a brain!) possible. But, the skill level reached largely depends on the training one gets. With this training (like you provide) the results can be masterpieces! Continue with your ‘art’ classes! The world needs masterpieces!

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