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Description: Giving full attention to what their people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.


Thinking Partner Notes

What’s the fiction: The most effective leaders juggle many competing data inputs at any given time; in-person conversation, emails, and instant messages.

What's really true: The most effective communicators direct all their focus towards one conversation at a time; not just in speaking, but in listening. 


Example: Kai complained that in long meetings, he often felt himself check out or get aggravated by others’ comments, and then follow along with their detrimental behavior by interrupting and arguing himself. He had given the feedback several times that meetings seemed to be called just for the sake of having meetings, and people wasted countless hours just talking over one another, yet no one took the initiative to change. After a Thinking Partner session where we explored some possible practices to change the dynamic, he decided to experiment by having smaller teams of three where people could be more engaged. He made a conscious effort to focus less on his own agenda and more on trying to understand each person’s perspective–actively listening. After a couple of meetings like this, not only did his own engagement and effectiveness go up, so did the output of work and quality of decisions made by the team at large.


Things to try: 1) Practice making time and space to listen within your undivided attention; 2) Practice using of a voice recorder (with the speaker’s permission) so you can concentrate on understanding what is being said and how it’s being said; 3) Practice listening without judgment; 4) Practice listening while keeping eye contact; 5) Practice resisting the urge to fill awkward silences during conversation; 6) Practice repeating the speakers phrases and points that you believe to be important; 7) Practice asking clarifying questions.

Next steps: 1) Choose an episode of your favorite 1-on-1 video or audio interview platform; 2) Begin listening to / watching the interview paying special attention to the interview subject; 3) At the end of each answer or each complete thought by the subject, pause the recording and write down how you would paraphrase their latest thought. You can start your paraphrasing with “It sounds like they’re saying…” “If I understand them right….” or “What I hear them saying is…”; 4) Once you’ve finished paraphrasing, write down the question that you would ask the subject if you were conducting the interview; 5) After you’ve finished writing down your question, resume the recording, repeating the steps above until the end of the interview (or until you’ve been practicing for 30 minutes, whichever comes first); 6) At the end of this exercise, reflect on your level of engagement with the interview subject. Do you feel as though you have a more thorough understanding of their perspective and point of view than you typically have after listening to a podcast or watching an interview?  

Additional Resources



Active Listening

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Active Listening Media

Dive deep on active listening through articles, podcasts + more.