Listen Deep

HeadphonesI remember as a young child listening to my brother’s music albums over and over again. My brother was the coolest man I knew. He had long hair, drove a red sports car and played drums in a band. His life was a primer in young aspiration, circa 1973. He introduced his music to me tangentially. It hung around him, pulling me toward a sound heavy in nuance and maturity. To be fair, the music was a bit beyond my years. Albums like The Allman Brothers’ “Live at the Filmore East,” Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Brain Salad Surgery” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?”

But I loved this music. It taught me to listen, deep, to the layers beneath the surface of things. Almost like the music was an entrance exam to the art of being hyper-attuned. So it astounded me, years later when I began working full-time, to see people totally unaware of the subtle clues walking with them through each day. Clues that could have told them whether or not someone was being dishonest, or whether or not their beloved pet project was dying a slow organizational death. Clues that got ignored so completely their eventual revelation hit like a sudden turn of events.

Listening below the surface is an incredible business skill. In many ways, it is one of the top skills any professional must possess. Think about a typical day where you feel besieged by requests and emergencies that pull you away from what you set out to do. Now, think about how many of these interruptions were completely out of the blue. Was everything hitting you a true surprise? Probably not.

Which leads to cultivating the art of listening deep. How can it be done? By simply observing what is around you without getting involved in it. Granted, this can be hard to do, especially in the midst of a stressful period. Yet it doesn’t diminish its importance. The more you listen, the more becomes known and the easier it is to find strategies that can protect you or help you ride along. You find yourself in a position of choice, not circumstance. I’ve been told by peers that I have the skill of seeing the big picture and reading people well. I never formally trained myself in this skill. I came to it in small ways, by understanding the presence of a deeper world under the surface of things. A world you can see, or hear, by shutting down your own soundtrack and listening to the sights and sounds around you. A world that you should want to recognize.

How have you used deep listening to succeed? Where have you seen others use it to its best intent? And where have you seen the absence of it lead to unnecessary failure?

Let me know.




  1. Kristina – great topic! Probably one of the most critical skills to learn, yet one of the least ‘taught’. Some of the greatest lessons I have learned about listening involved the concept of “filters”. We all listen through our own filters we have created in life, usually based on our experiences, beliefs, or judgments. Filters are not a bad thing, but often they go undistinguished and therefore can cloud true communication or understanding. One of the ugly truths about being human (we all do it) is that our filters are often about ourselves. So, rather than listening with generosity, we listen with our own interests in mind. Ever notice that when someone is talking to us how much time we spend crafting our response? Try it out.
    Ok, hope this wasn’t too ‘deep’. Back to listening to my music (Stones and Clapton during this message).

  2. Author
    K. Dipalo June 13, 2013 Reply

    Gary – You hit on a critical nuance when you talk about filters. We all have them and we are often deeply unconscious of their impact. It’s almost as if we engage in “competitive listening” instead of honest listening. Might be an interesting idea to explore further. Thanks for participating!

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