What do you miss by not listening?

I was a precocious child, especially as it related to language and vocabulary. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, due to my congenital heart defect, I logged a LOT of time in hospitals from infancy up through around age six.

The good news is, because of my love for reading and innate bookish-ness, by the time I reached school age, I had already amassed a formidable vocabulary for a child my age. The bad news? I developed the habit of mentally finishing others’ sentences (including those of teachers) when I could tell that (s)he was searching for a word to use.

Most of the time, I was actually right, which only reinforced this crippling habit. I say crippling, because it trained me to presume to know what others meant. I shut out possibilities of what was being said. I missed out on such a wealth of knowledge and perspective because I didn’t allow myself to access the totality of what they knew.

Learning how to truly restrain your urge to interrupt or to otherwise squelch/impede the communication of another is central to your growth and evolution as a human being.

“There are people who, instead of listening to what is being said to them, are already listening to what they are going to say themselves.” ~ Albert Guinon

1. Guilty. Once in awhile I still find myself doing this, especially if the person with whom I am speaking talks slowly. When I was in radio, the concept of “Dead Air“ was a programming fail, so my need to fill verbal vacuums still rears its head on occasion.

2. You probably already work with or encounter this type of “listener” every day. These are they who pounce right back into the volley of voices with a pat, shiny sentence that skims the surface of the initial part of your conversation (without considering or hearing what you said after the first few seconds).

“To listen fully means to pay close attention to what is being said beneath the words. You listen not only to the ‘music,’ but to the essence of the person speaking. You listen not only for what someone knows, but for what he or she is. Ears operate at the speed of sound, which is far slower than the speed of light the eyes take in. Generative listening is the art of developing deeper silences in yourself, so you can slow our mind’s hearing to your ears’ natural speed, and hear beneath the words to their meaning.” ~ Peter Senge

Imagine that you are a huge reservoir for ideas, information and knowledge. In order to prepare a storage space for all of this good stuff, you need to create silence within. This is analogous to Bruce Lee’s “empty cup” reference. Meditation is ideal for learning how to accept silence in your head. Once you learn how to modulate your inner static, you can begin accumulating others’ wisdom through listening.

Conscious breathing is also essential for creating a cadence between and among speakers so that you can create spaces around the various ideas and concepts that are being exchanged. Learning how to use breath as a pause point or centering opportunity also acts as a calming agent so that the speaker doesn’t feel rushed and you as a listener have the opportunity to focus on what is being said.

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” ~ Karl Menninger

The best listening is a dynamic act. It is a symbiotic ebb and flow between and among people, ideally each of whom brings something to the conversation and each takes away something valuable.

I love the concept within this last quote about how listening “creates us.” Even if we keep a journal, or talk aloud to ourselves (on the commute, making the coffee…), it is priceless to have interplay with other people who have their own abilities to discern, listen and offer feedback.

What is your greatest obstacle to effective listening? How does being heard make a difference in your business? life? When was there a time when you truly felt understood and how did affect your performance or outcomes?

I’d love to hear about it.


Molly Cantrell-Kraig is a woman with drive. Possessing an innate sense of purpose and a pragmatic, solution-based approach to empowering people, she fused these two traits in order to establish Women With Drive Foundation. Based upon its founder’s personal history, Women With Drive Foundation is a means through which Cantrell-Kraig may effect change on both a micro and macro level. By providing women with something as essential as personal transportation in order to transition them from poverty to prosperity, she, through Women With Drive Foundation, seeks to empower women to help them help themselves. Through this action, the individual applicant benefits, as does society as a whole. Follow Molly on twitter as @mckra1g or @WWDr1ve (Women With Drive Foundation) or “Like” them on facebook.


  1. says

    Such a great topic, Molly, and one I am also passionate about. I love your quote by Karl Menninger. I have an associate who constantly interrupts and talks over me when I’m speaking. One time, I wanted to see how long she would continue to talk while I was talking. So I was in the middle of saying something when she butted in and started speaking. Instead of stopping, I also continued to talk just to see how long she would talk while I was talking. I think it went on for 30 seconds before I finally gave up! It was pretty amusing, but I am grateful I don’t have to work with her. Have you ever had someone interrupt and speak while you were still speaking?

    We really do learn so much when we listen. We have two ears for a reason and only one mouth. I succeed at work when I listen to my employees and their needs and ideas. I succeed when my superiors listen to my needs and ideas. When I am not heard, it is incredibly frustrating. The company suffers when individuals are not heard. Communication is the most important thing when being a great leader. Communication is a two-part process of listening and speaking. Great post!

    • molly says

      Sometimes, I think the need to interrupt is rooted in insecurity. When we lack the self esteem to know that what we have is worth hearing, we rush to insert our opinions before they have a chance to get rejected. Quiet confidence and timely talking creates a space for our contributions to conversations. Thank you so much for your considered comment! Best, M. :)

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