The Beginning – The Power of Listening


My first post sure feels odd. I have never read other peoples blogs and even less ever considered myself of actual doing one. To be honest I have still not understood the concept of blogging. My common sense tells me: “who on earth would read other peoples opinions and world views? Isn’t that a completely a waste of time?”

On a second thought, reading other blogs i very similar to listening, which in my opinion is by far one of the most important ability and quality one can have. In other words, there is a strong reason for why we have only one mouth but have two ears. Likewise, there is a reason for why we have two eyes for reading (blogs) and only one mouth for speaking.

What also motivated and inspired me to start blogging is Seth Godin, the author of the fantastic book “Whatcha Gonna Do with That Duck?” that I warmly recommend for anybody to read. In this book, Seth Godin really provokes and challenges the status Que that we are living in, though often from a business perspective. Seth strongly encourages everybody to start blogging. I hit the bandwagon and here we are now.

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak

However, returning to the subject of listening. The other day I came across a TED video (Gosh, already the first TED reference in this blog) held by Celeste Headlee. In this roughly 12 minute video Celeste Headlee clearly comes to the conclusion that we people have lost our capacity to listen to others, and the main blame for this is that new technological advances provide us with instant information and facts that kills conversations or result in unhealthy arguments. Thus, “conversational competence is the single most overlooked skill failed to teach” in the 21st century, essentially this concerns the aspect of listening, which is a view that I fully support.

We can all agree upon (hopefully) that the power of listening is an extremely valuable and important  skill. However what actually is listening ? According to Wikipedia, listening can be defined as “a broad term to refer to complex affective, cognitive, and behavioral processes. Affective processes include the motivation to attend to others; cognitive processes include attending to, understanding, receiving, and interpreting content and relational messages; and behavioural processes include responding with verbal and nonverbal feedback”. Thus, listening is clearly about connecting with others. Ironically, although the internet “connects us” more than ever, the fact is that because of it we listen less than ever. This point illustrates well with the following quote (yes, I am well aware that quotes are cheesy, but I like them):

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
― Stephen R. Covey

In my opinion, this quote by Stephen Covey  reflects the reality as we see it. Nowadays listening is definitely not about understanding each other, instead it is about the intent of reply. This means that our focus of replying is  actually “unconnecting” people – the opposite of listening – hence resulting in a more confusing, frustrating, and lonesome world. I believe that this phenomenon is very familiar for everyone and even the best of us falls victim for this at times.


The natural question that follows is: “how is listening then done ?”. As I recently concluded, the core of listening is to understand and respond to others. This means that we need to focus on others, a common advise found almost everywhere. We can all agree on that this is true, but it requires a lot of patience and focus from us, and worst of all it may lead nowhere. Personally, I consider myself as a great listener and this situation is one that I often find myself in on almost daily basis. I call this phenomenon for one-sided listening. The problem with one-sided listening is that it only uses a portion of the full the full potential of listening.

One-sided listening is listening, but it is not using the true potential of listening

Huh, so what unlocks the true potential of listening then? My twist on this is that the full potential of listening is achieved, when all involving parties are truly committed to listen to each other. In other words, it takes two to tango. This is both easy to understand and comprehend, but (as with the most of the things) very hard to execute. And as we all know you can’t force people into listening. Nevertheless I have found a trick that is works, it is not waterproof, but damn sure to be effective.

Silence is golden

Silence truly is golden, especially when it comes to listening. My strong belief is that silence can speak louder than words. Therefore silence is a loud and intimidating voice that can make anyone to start listen. It is so simple, yet rarely used.

The use of silence is closely aligned with Robert Greene’s fourth law: always say less than necessary. (For you who don’t know Robert Greene, he is the author of “The 48 Laws of Power“, a classic must read). Personally, the fourth law compels me, because it makes  silence into an art. Also, I have come to the conclusion that one needs to have a strong mind and soul in order to fully use silence. The reasoning for this is that it is wide known that insecurities always shines through, therefore the awkwardness that most of us are familiar with emerges. I have learned to see the awkwardness as one of the most important emotions one can have in your life, thus try to make friends with it. After all, it is a very beautiful and fragile emotion that needs to be cherished more.

An example of the power of silence is a story presented by Percy Barnevik, the former and notorious CEO of ABB. In this story, the Finnish and the Swiss manufacturing division found themselves in a dispute. This because the Swiss division felt that the Finnish division “stole” an order from under their noses. After a while Barnevik finally got tired of the Swiss divisions complaining and accusation, and decided that the Swiss divisions must sort this situation with the Finnish division, without his inference. After this Barnevik never heard anything concerning this issue. He found this somewhat odd because the head of the Swiss department was extremely furious and was for sure to come back to him regarding this very same issue. Thus, Barnevik decided to call the head of the Finnish division and ask him how this issue was so smoothly solved?

The Finn replied:

“When he (head of the Swiss department) called me, he sure was furious and angry. He started out with yelling. After a while, it turned into talking. And after a while, there was silence. And after a while, he apologized.”

Barnevik asked:

“So what did you tell him?”

The Finn replied:

“Nothing… (gave him just silence). When he asked me something I answered him”

Barnevik was of course very impressed of the Finn’s humble mentality and scarce use of words. In my opinion, this story illustrates extremely well how powerful silence can be. It proves that silence can make people listen and is one of the core components in the art of listening.

Finally, how is the power of listening compared to the  power of blogging? Well, I will try to find/drill an answer to that.


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