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Going beyond active listening to deep listening

Image by Bru-nO on Pixabay

This article was based on episode 042 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher.

When I think of productivity, my mind typically goes to topic like time management, prioritization, process design and technology. My guest this week proposes that an often overlooked component of productivity is Deep Listening.

In this episode of The Modern Manager, I speak with Oscar Trimboli about deep listening: what it is, how to do it, and why it’s important. Oscar is a speaker and author of Deep Listening: Impact Beyond Words, The 125/400 Rule: The Art and Science of Listening, and Breakthroughs: How to Confront Your Assumptions.

According to Oscar, we spend a minimum of 55% of our day listening at work. The more senior your role, the higher that percentage is, up to 83% for the senior most executives. Yet few of us have been taught how to actually listen.


Oscar differentiates active listening from deep listening with the following metaphor: Active listening is like active breathing; You don't actively breathe, but there is a noticeable difference once you've been taught how to breathe properly. Ask anyone who practices yoga or Pilates, or is an opera singers or Olympic athlete. Even though we all breathe all the time, one of the first things they’re taught us how to breathe correctly.

Deep listening includes listening to what wasn’t said. Research shows we speak on average at 125-150 words per minute yet we think at up to 900 words per minute. A critical aspect of deep listening is exploring those other 750 words in the speaker's mind. Try asking, "I'm curious what else you're thinking about on this topic” or “What other thoughts have you had on this topic?” In asking these probing questions, you'll likely notice they continue the dialogue and share additional, deeper thinking because they actually hadn’t finished communicating the first time around.


The first step towards listening more effectively is to start within yourself. We tend to focus on minimizing external distractions such as email, social media, or the bustling office space surrounding us.

While those distractions are real, they’re not the only ones we need to worry about. Our days are filled with moving from one task to another, one meeting room to another, one phone call to another, one client to another. Most of us experience a continuous dialogue running through our heads. The result? The greatest distraction keeping us from deep listening is our own minds.

To reduce your internal distractions try these three simple approaches:

1. Reduce external distractions. Our internal mind get’s going when we’re worried about external distractions. Did I hear my phone buzz? Did that person respond to my email yet? Try switching your phone into flight mode so you can mentally put it aside. Even better, turn it off and keep it out of sight.

2. Take a deep breath. There is an incredible connection between our breath and our ability to listen. When you're struggling with internal distractions, take a deep breath to quiet your mind. Hold it a little bit longer than usual and then exhale. Try taking five breaths this way between meetings. You may be surprised by what happen. The deeper you breathe, the deeper you listen.

3. Stay hydrated. This means water, not coffee. The brain consumes over 25 percent of the blood sugars in the body when it processes really complex tasks and listenig is one of the most complex tasks the brain performs. Keep it hydrated in order to get blood sugar to the brain faster, which will reduce the cognitive load. Try drinking a glass of water during every meeting you attend.


There are costs to not listening that go beyond the obvious concerns of missing important information or offending the speaker. Some of those costs are loss of talented employees, poor decision-making, and lost productivity.

The saying goes: People don’t leave a company, they leave a manager. When a team member doesn’t feel listened to, they’re more likely to leave the organization. This drives up recruitment costs and slows down the work.

A lack of listening creates friction in the workplace. Projects often go off track when team members don’t listen to one another or their stakeholders. When we speed through conversations, we miss out on important details which lead to rushed decisions and lack of understanding. When you take the time to listen upfront, you don't have to re-do work later.


Oscar suggests we approach silence as an important moment in the dialogue. When the speaker pauses to think or draw a breath, it's not your moment to jump in. Instead, give the silence they are creating respect, and listen to it fully. Your silence in return will give the other person the opportunity to reflect a bit further and get to deeper insights themselves.

Join the Modern Manager community on Patreon and get 10% off Oscar's book Deep Listening, along with other guest bonuses and resources to support your journey to rockstar manager.

This article was based on episode 042 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.


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