Are You Listening?

Communication is an exchange of information.

It is giving and receiving, speaking and listening. However, the intention behind our communication changes the way that we listen and if we are not aware of our intentions and the way we are listening, it is difficult to communicate authentically and to exchange the information that is truly important.

Here are 5 types of listening and the common intentions behind them and the resultant outcomes.


Listening for Rebuttal:

This type of listening most often occurs when our intention, upon entering the conversation, is to prove our point and to defend our value.

When we are on a mission to prove our point, we only listen to the other person’s information long enough to identify a concept that we can then present a counter argument to. This can lead to a very aggressive “attack and defend” type of conversation, during which we listen from a very defensive mindset (and often defensive posture with arms crossed or on the other side of a piece of furniture) until the moment we can interrupt and then we attack with our well thought out rebuttal.

And our rebuttal is always well thought out! When we are practicing this type of listening, we spend the time when we were supposed to be listening, carefully forming the counter argument, just waiting for the right words to come out of the other person’s mouth. Before you know it, the conversation heats up into an argument, the volume begins to rise, and we start saying things we don’t even mean just to come out on top and win the argument.

Why do we do this?

We fall into the Listening for Rebuttal habit when we AFRAID. When we are standing in a place of lack, low self-worth or “I am not enough”, it becomes imperative that we prove our point by any and all means necessary.

If the other person “wins” the argument or proves that we are wrong in some way, our brains interpret that as evidence that we our identity is in danger, that we really are inferior and not enough.  In this scenario, we feel like we must defend ourselves and our value and our “rightness” at any cost even if it means interrupting and attacking the other person’s viewpoint.

However, when we are standing in a place of confidence and self love and of being sure of our own inherent value, the other person’s opinions cannot threaten our worth or identity. So, although the other person’s differing opinions may have consequences, our subconscious minds don’t consider them to be life threatening consequences.


Listening for the Gist:

The Gist is the summary, the point of the content. We listen for the gist, when we are not really interested or invested in the details of the conversation and just want to hear enough to keep the conversation rolling. We can also do this when we are just busy or distracted by something else going on. This type of listening is common in “small talk” or “polite conversation”.

When we listen in this way, we are often using our listening time to think about other, “more important”, things and we just let our brains pick up on key words and phrases so that we know when to add the “emhm” or the “really?” or, my favorite, the “that’s interesting”. We didn’t really listen to enough of the conversation to ask more pointed questions.

We will often hear people say (or say ourselves), “I hate small talk”. Well, small talk can be transformed into a much more intimate and interesting conversation if we engage in a different style of listening and begin to ask more interesting questions.


Listening for Perspective:

This is very similar to “reading between the lines”. When we listen for perspective, we are engaged and interested in the other person’s words, verbal nuances and pauses and their body language. We listen with the intention of learning more about someone and we acknowledge that a lot can be learned about that person from even simple conversation.

When we shift our intention from getting OUR point across or just waiting for the conversation to be over, to wanting to learn more about the other person amazing things start to happen. If we can also listen with the intention of sharing love and compassion with the other person while we learn more about them, things get even more awesome.

When the other person notices that we are actually interested in THEM and what they have to say, more freedom of expression begins to occur, and even more interesting information starts to show up. The other person starts filling in details around their concept or around who they are as a person. They begin to be a little more vulnerable and “let you in” on how they really feel about the subject.

This style of listening allows for more authentic communication to develop and then when it is your turn to share and speak, it is much more likely that you will have a captive audience that cares and is interested in what you have to say.


Listening for Understanding:

This type of listening builds upon Listening for Perspective and is a more active and engaged form of listening. In this form we are listening with the intention of making sure that we are fully receiving and understanding the other person’s ideas in addition to just learning more about them. We want to learn and grow by fully understanding the concepts they are presenting as well as the beliefs behind their perspective and the emotions surrounding their ideas.

This is a much more active type of listening and may involve politely interrupting the other person to ask for clarity on a concept. Another tool of Listening for Understanding is repetition. If we ask them to pause for a moment while we repeat back to them what we heard, we are acknowledging that we may not have downloaded all of the information they presented, OR we may have subconsciously interpreted something through a filter that could potentially alter the information before we absorb it.

So we might say, “Do you mind pausing for a second to make sure I got all of that? So you’re saying__(summarize what we heard)__________, is that right? Did I get it all?”

This gives them the chance to correct a misconception or add a detail that might help clarify an area that you might be vague on.

With this type of listening, we allow them to fully finish their point and then we can even go a step further and ask “Is there any more to that concept / thought/ story?” and allow them to look back and make sure they gave you all the information. We do this because we truly care about what they are saying and deeply desire to learn more.

Again, we reap what we sow, so they are much more likely to want to learn from you and your ideas and to let you fully finish your thought when it is your turn to speak.

Internal Listening:

The last type of listening can be applied to all the other types of listening. Internal listening is the awareness of ourselves that we can develop while we are listening to others. It’s like taking notes while listening to a lecture in class. You can be attentive to the teacher AND take notes at the same time. In this case, you are taking note of how you are responding to the information you are receiving from that other person.  This helps you clue into the type of listening you are engaging in AND gives you information on how to respond or ask questions in an authentic way.

Some things to notice include…

Are you feeling defensive, are your arms crossed, do you feel angry or frustrated? Do you feel the need to interrupt or prove a point? Do you feel fearful or vulnerable? Are you making assumptions about the other person or their message?

Is your mind beginning to wander off to other subjects while you are listening? Are you wishing the conversation was over? Are you looking for excuses to leave the conversation?

Are you interested in knowing more about the other person? How do your observations about that person make you feel? Are you confused about a point, do you need more clarity?

Do the other person’s words trigger you in some way, are they bringing up old beliefs or old thoughts?


Gathering information about how you are responding and interacting with other people can really help you change the type of listening to something more interactive and compassionate. But it can also help you exchange accurate information when it is your time to speak and can even uncover the root of the discussion so that you can have a pointed and meaningful conversation.

Rather just watch the FB live? Here you go my friend! =)

I hope that was helpful and I totally understand that not every conversation is going to involve Listening for understanding. Sometimes, there is simply not enough time to engage in that deep of a conversation. But I do find it helpful to notice what type of listening I am using, especially if the conversation is becoming heated or emotionally charged.

I am really passionate about authentic communication especially in intimate relationships and I am planning on putting out a lot more information on that subject in particular. I really believe that practicing Listening for Perspective and Understanding and Internal Listening can really teach you so much about yourself as well as the person you are interacting with.

Sending love to you as always,