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what happens when we really listen

What Happens When We Really Listen: Why Listening Matters

by | Sep 16, 2015 | By Karin Hurt, Communication |

What happens when you really listen? When’s the last time you really listened to someone you cared about? How about to a colleague or customer? When’s the last time someone really listened to you?

What Happens When We Really Listen

Have you ever noticed that sometimes life rhymes?

Something happens to you that fits together so well with what happens next that (as my editor would say of another one of my other rhyming days) “That story is so tight no one is going to believe it.” But the truth is, our lives are full of true rhyming stories ready to knock a message into our hearts if we can listen well enough to  hear them. This weekend that happened to me–again.

Saturday evening I was coaching a friend who wants to become a keynote speaker. I was drawn in by her powerful stories full of transformative potential. I connected to her raw conviction and was listening carefully for how I could help her hone her message. As she spoke her voice shook just a bit, not from fear but from her authentic emotion. She didn’t cry, and the truth is, the emotion made her message more powerful. It was raw, real and compelling.  She kept apologizing for getting “emotional” and saying how she just couldn’t understand it. “I never have this problem in front of an audience.”

As she was walking out the door, she stopped, turned around,  looked at me with concerned eyes and said,  “I figured out why I was getting so emotional. It’s because of how you were listening so intently. What if my audiences listen like that?”

“Then you will have made a powerful connection and will change lives.”

The next morning the tables were turned.

And the Tables Turned

As I entered the church lobby, my friend who had moved to New Mexico a few years ago came running across the room and gave me an enormous hug. A fellow leadership junkie, I excitedly shared all my new news, the book, the course, the keynotes…and he shared his. Our conversation was cut short by the chiming of the bell.

After service, he came up and said, “Something’s not right with you. What is it?”

He had just asked me how I was an hour before and everything I had told him was sunny. What had he heard? I thought I was alright.

Tears started streaming down my face. Now, I was getting in touch with an emotion I didn’t even realize was so strong.

“My mom died a few months ago. And yesterday, we came up with such a powerful ending to the final chapter of our book, I know she would love it. But I can’t show it to her.”

Apparently, that’s what he heard in the earlier exchange.

He started crying too, and said that his mother died 15 years ago, and he still feels that way anytime something good happens, and then shared, “She’s in you, and she’s in that book.”

And we just cried for a minute together, knowing that it’s better to know how you feel.

Real listening transforms us.

What would happen if we all really listened?

See Also: 11 Signs You Have a Listening Culture

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Steve Borek

    My favorite quote on listening:

    “The difference between listening and pretending to listen, I discovered, is enormous. One is fluid, the other is rigid. One is alive, the other is stuffed. Eventually, I found a radical way of thinking about listening. Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you. When I’m willing to let them change me, something happens between us that’s more interesting than a pair of dueling monologues.”
    ― Alan Alda, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I’ve Learned

    • Karin Hurt

      Steve, thanks so much for adding that! I’ve never heard that quote and it is PERFECT.

  2. bill holston

    Life ryhming, I often use this selection of Seamus Heany’s Cure at Troy:

    History says, Don’t hope
    on this side of the grave.
    But then, once in a lifetime
    the longed for tidal wave
    of justice can rise up,
    and hope and history rhyme.

    thanks for the reminder about listening. I’m so guilty of being one of those people who are thinking about what I want to say next as opposed to listening.

    • Karin Hurt

      Bill, WOW! Another great add. I’ve never heard that one either. When hope and history rhyme. Amen. We surely need more of that.

  3. James McKey

    Wow! Simply the emotion of your text choked me up a bit. I love the idea of listening having as much if not more an emotional impact than speaking.

  4. Terri Klass

    I love your honest post, Karin! It is very interesting how our parents who are no longer with us pop into our thoughts at different times. I think they are just reminding us that they really are inside of us all the time. I have these kind of moments with my father who is passed away many years ago. His words and love just come to me at the perfect times.

    When we really listen to understand we grow and open our minds.

    And your mom knows all about your book!!

    • Karin Hurt

      Terri, Thanks so much for sharing your important experience with your Dad. I feel like such a rookie on this. And… yes, I sure hope she does.

  5. WKTaylor

    Alan Alda’s Quote [see reply by Steve Borek] was #1 on my list… here are a few others…

    Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.” –Margaret J. Wheatley, writer and management consultant

    One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” — Bryant McGill, American writer and motivational speaker

    Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear.” — Leo Buscaglia, American author and motivational speaker

    • Karin Hurt

      Thnks you for your beautiful additions. Thanks so much. I hope you continue to visit and share your insights. Namaste.

  6. LaRae Quy

    What a powerful testimony to the art of listening…thanks so much for sharing.

    We are truly blessed when surrounded by friends and family who mean so much to us…loved your friend’s response.

    • Karin Hurt

      LaRae, It was game changing. I feel oddly better now.

  7. Karin Hurt

    Wow! The most wonderful out of the blue, comment of all came this afternoon. My phone rang… and this stranger said something like this:

    “You don’t know me, but I suppose now you now know my number from your caller-ID. I didn’t intend that. I have just one thing to say. You touched me, and I believe this kind of listening is so true… and I strive to do it… but it’s hard, and I’m not always perfect… so much gets in the way.

    And then we shared some silence that could feel awkward for strangers, but somehow just felt right.

    All I could offer was something like this, “Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for calling me. Thank you for working at listening and being imperfect, as I assure you I am.” Although, I’m sure it came out much less eloquently than that.. but in case you’re circling back “what I meant to say…”


  8. David Tumbarello

    I think “it’s” all been said before in these comments. Compelling quote by Alan Alda. Powerful stores. I can’t wait for your book and that final chapter!

    I think listening is a partner to authenticity. When I am really present, I listen. If I am slightly left or right, my listening is less authentic and carries an agenda. Listening after all is not about me. It is a gift for the person speaking.

    This morning I walked into a colleague’s office and shared a bit about me being stirred up. She said, “Sorry to hear that, Dave” and I went on to tel her that it was okay. The issue won’t be fixed over night but part of the resolution involves hearing myself articulate the problem. Maybe I need to articulate it over and over again in front of a colleague (be judicious about this!) or in front of friends. But hearing myself describe the problem in different ways is like adding new color to the canvas. Being stirred up was not my goal when I woke up this morning but what I have now is a color that I can apply to the canvas – and adding color is a good thing – and I wouldn’t have that color without someone who listened. A gift indeed.

    • Karin Hurt

      David, As always, what a beautiful extension of the conversation. What if we all added just a bit more color with our listening?

  9. Devin Kampert

    I was intrigued by your statement that sometimes life rhymes. To be honest I read past it the first time but the more I thought about it, it really intrigued me. Then it reminded me of something I’d heard a long time ago. It was this idea of harmony. The illustration began with looking at a choir and the different notes being sung. Although the notes are different, when sung in harmony, create this wonderful sound. The idea was shared that we all have something to offer and when those things align, it can be very powerful. Harmony is more than a single note. As a matter of fact, it’s multiple notes but they’re all in the same key so it creates a fuller and richer tone. Each note is a different note but yet at the same time, it’s as if they lift off from the pages falling perfectly in to place. So I was thinking about our life experiences. They’re different tones but there’s a similar key there that creates this beautiful harmony. That harmony I see above is the loss of a parent. I lost my mom five years ago and just like one of your readers expressed, I am constantly reminded of her and things she did and said almost on a weekly basis. It’s neat to think about the harmony of our experiences and how that chorus is sung by so many. And then as you described, sometimes we’re on stage and sometimes we’re in the audience. Either way, there’s an appreciation there for the journey even though we see that sunset from different horizons. Thanks for sharing…



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