Naive Listening – A Lesson in Leadership

After shadowing a CEO all day long, Tom Peters watched the CEO listen with deep intensity to one of his personnel as they told him the same story that he had heard three times that day from three different people. When the person left, Tom asked him why he listened just as intensely the last time as he did the first.

Let me paraphrase that CEO’s answer. “I’m listening,” he said, “To hear what I haven’t heard before, that if I heard it, I might be able to help solve the problem.”

Tom later coined the phrase, ‘naive listening‘ to earmark this certain type of listening and I have done my best to practice this type of listening ever since.

Naive listening is being empty enough – which requires letting go of our opinions, judgments and attitudes- to hear what the other person is really trying to say.

It is the willingness to set yourself, your thoughts and preconceived notions, aside long enough to get beneath the words to the heart of the matter. It is being willing to listen to something two, three, or even four times in order to catch and understand the intention behind the communication.

As leaders and educators, naive listening will greatly enhance your arsenal of listening skills. As for my experience with naive listening, I am continually amazed by what I hear when I get out of the way, listen deeply and and seek to understand the deeper feeling behind the words.

So here it is in short! The next time someone starts a conversation and you feel as if you’ve heard it all before :

  1. Freeze frame (freeze the frame on your movie)
  2. Take a deep breath
  3. Let go of your opinions
  4. Imagine emptying your mental cup
  5. Listen deeply with heart and mind focused to sense the real message just beneath the words

Sometimes people don’t have the language to communicate their deepest thoughts or feelings. Thus if you can be still and listen as if with an mind insights and inspiration may whisper through –  expanding your awareness and giving greater depth and clarity to the meaning behind the message.

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