Common understanding decrees that hearing and listening are two different activities. Hearing requires only functioning ears, while listening requires comprehension, minimal distraction, and suspending your opinions while the other person is speaking.

What then is deep listening? Deep listening can take many forms. One important hallmark is when speaking with someone who is listening deeply, you feel as if you are the only person in the world.

What makes deep listening different?

Like most methods of human interaction, to listen deeply requires effort. And while it can seem like hard work, the rewards can be great.

Unfortunately, whether consciously or not, some individuals overuse "listening phrases" that are divorced from the intention and action required of true listening. Here' s an example that you' ve probably experienced:

A conversation participant uses the phrase, "So, what I hear you saying is? " to begin most of her sentences. She says it quickly, repeats your comment, and then launches into her opinion. There' s neither a bridge between your comment and hers, nor any pause, acknowledgment, or eye contact. The result? No one feels she's hearing anything but the clock ticking while she waits to speak again.

Sure, the person in this example is saying the words that deep listeners might use. And yet, while this person seems to be making an attempt to listen more effectively, using rote technical phrases can cause more damage than not using them at all.

You know deep listening when you see it in action. The listener, through her actions, makes clear that she's asking about and listening to the perspectives of others. She doesn't spend the entire meeting talking; she might ask as many questions as she makes statements; she may or may not take notes while others speak; she notices that some people "say" things through their body language without verbally saying anything at all; and she can summarize the conversation afterward, or if another person loses track of his thought. Deep listening is an important skill to cultivate. Why?

The benefits of deep listening

The results of deep listening can manifest in tangible ways, such as an improved bottom line due to clear communication, and in abstract ways, such as a more fulfilling work experience and higher degrees of understanding. Through deep listening you gain:

  • Greater understanding of another person' s perspective, thus broadening your own perspective
  • Stronger relationships with others, including business partners, thus ensuring ongoing collaboration

What's more, the deep listener picks up clues and makes observations that allow her to contribute pertinent ideas or create more effective strategies.