A bird call. A jackhammer. Your name being called out. Humans hear on the order of tens of thousands of sounds a day. But there’s a vast difference between hearing and listening.
Psychologists have theorized about the benefits of a particular form of listening called active listening in which we listen without judgement, try to hear something from the speaker’s point of view, and let the speaker know that we understand the content of what he or she is saying. This method of listening is used in conflict resolution and to improve interpersonal communication from the boardroom to the bedroom. Advocates say that practicing active listening not only builds deep positive relationships but can change the attitude of the listener.
For our book, we heard about how listening—something we may associate with a passive pursuit—was actually one of the top ten strategies for success from people who have achieved mastery in their fields. We heard about how a former chief FBI hostage negotiator, Gary Noesner listened to perpetrators; how high school teacher Erin Gruwell listened to her at-risk students (who went on to write a bestseller “The Freedom Writers Diaries“); how award-winning actress Laura Linney listened to her scripts.
This made an impression on us. Is it possible, we wondered, to really become a better listener? To tune in to listen not just to validate someone or something, but to listen to learn?