Photo Credit: Ben White,

There are three things you may not know about powerful listening skills:

You have an adaptive unconscious
The art of listening is understanding why
Listening is an act of bravery

Your Adaptive Unconscious

There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.

G.K. Chesterton

Sounds produce waves that cause our eardrum to vibrate. Small bones in the middle ear carry this vibration to our inner ear. The fluid of the cochlea moves and causes hair cells to transmit signals up the auditory nerve to the brain. When those signals arrive, our mind either ignores or interprets its message. It’s at this moment listening can occur. You hear with your ears, you listen with your mind.

Your mind is that part of you that sifts through your sensory experiences, both internal and external. This powerhouse is aware of millions, maybe even billions, of bits of information per second. There is a portion of your mind that selects the inputs that are most important to pay attention to.

It’s called your ‘adaptive unconscious.’ Malcolm Gladwell explored the influence that this part of your mind plays on your perceptions and behaviors in his book, Blink.  The term adaptive unconscious was first coined in 2002 by Daniel Wagner and was the subject of Timothy Wilson’s book, Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious. He describes it as “part of the architecture of the brain that is unknowable” that works to further an individual’s advantage.

The Art of Powerful Listening

Listening is not understanding the words of the question asked, listening is understanding why the question was asked in the first place.

Simon Sinek

Listening encompasses much more than the act of processing sounds. It requires the listener to observe body language, facial expressions, and movements, and, to integrate knowledge about the speaker. A surprising part of developing powerful listening skills is knowledge of yourself. This is essentially understanding the influence your adaptive consciousness has on your perceptions. This is because self-knowledge is a powerful path to developing intuition.

The most appreciated type of listening is intuitive. It’s so effective because it allows you to perceive not just the what, but the why of what’s been said. When you understand why someone says what they say, you’re engaging in true communication. Knowing the why of what someone is saying very often leads to the asking of more questions, thereby creating even greater understanding. This is a powerful basis for trust.

 An Act of Bravery

Listening is being prepared to be changed by what you are hearing.

Rosalind Wiseman

When you seek to hear why someone is saying what they are saying, you’re opening yourself to new understandings. You risk letting go of preconceived ideas that you may have had about them.  Listening also tells the speaker that you respect them. It doesn’t require you to agree with everything they have to say, but it helps to create a mutually respectful relationship.

It’s very common to enter a conversation with set ideas because the very nature of your mind is to do just that. Developing and walking through the world, with the awareness that what you think you know may not be all that there is to know, takes time.

At first, this can be an uncomfortable place to be but is well worth the investment. If you find yourself in conversations where you feel caught up in strong emotional responses and don’t feel able to go deeply into your intuition, give yourself a plan. Make a choice to respond with “I’d like to think this over and get back to you.” Pressing the pause button  is a great first step to growing your intuitive listening skills because it takes time and practice to become comfortable with this fluidity. Then, invest in working with a skilled, supportive coach to learn what beliefs you have that may be keeping you from becoming a powerful listener.

About Zette

Zette Harbour is an iPEC certified life coach and an award-winning professional storyteller. Her column, Successful Awakenings explores the limitless power of awakening to the brilliant and beautiful story of who you truly are. Sign up for vibrant and vivacious updates at Morphosis and receive your FREE guide, Awaken to Your Native Greatness. Follow Zette at Morphosis Coaching on Facebook.