The Secret to Connecting With People

Deep eye

When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.

~ Ernest Hemingway

For a long time I didn’t feel like I had a lot of people to relate to.  Being shy, I didn’t find myself in a lot of conversations with people I didn’t know, and when I did, I was uncomfortable.  Bonds did form, deep ones sometimes, but it was always a product of circumstance.  I made friends with people I was in class with or worked with, because some interaction is bound to happen in those places.  But to actually form a relationship without the help of circumstances was something I had never experienced.

I’ve shed much of my shyness through deliberately speaking up more and other forms of comfort-zone-pushing, but I eventually made a discovery that really opened the floodgates for me.  I see the potential for connection in just about everyone now; I no longer feel bound by differences of age, interests, cultures, or opinions.

The secret to connecting with people is this:

Always try to understand what people really mean when they speak.

It doesn’t sound like a huge revelation.  Many of you are probably thinking that you already do that anyway.  But chances are you don’t, at least not very well.  Certainly we know what the other person is saying, but most of the time, we don’t particularly care for the topic, or if we do, our minds are already busy forming a response.  Sometimes we take the liberty of finishing the person’s sentence, or even beginning one of our own before they finish.  This is fairly normal behavior, at least in my culture, and as such, it isn’t considered terribly rude in most circles.

Next time you’re out, try watching an exchange between two people.  In most conversations I witness, each person appears to clearly hold his own opinions as being of primary importance, and the other’s as being worth considerably less, though each might pretend otherwise.  It’s not that we’re arrogant, it’s just human nature.  Each person is usually waiting for their turn to talk, perhaps tossing in some polite remarks and nods so as not to appear rude.

However, things do flow more smoothly when one person’s opinion matches the other’s.  That’s when real listening happens without any effort, and conversation is unhindered.  But because of this human tendency to revere our own opinions, many people find they can only really connect with people who carry similar views.  With friends and family, we’ve already established some common ground, so it’s easy to really communicate with them.

But that leaves only a small segment of the population with which we have the potential to connect.  Most people will hold no interest for us.  I think part of the problem is that we think that the other person’s message is what they say.

What they say, in terms of what words come out of their mouth, is just a tiny fraction of what they are communicating.  The real message is not what they say.  The real message is why. Where are these words coming from? That why is what tells us who they are and what they value.

The speaker is rarely just trying to relay basic information to you.  Almost always, they are speaking up because there is some visceral desire to express what they are feeling right now.  Speech is always triggered by a passion, a worry, a judgment, a realization, or some other internal encounter with an emotion of some kind.  If your friend suddenly brings up her job, it isn’t because she wants you to be well-informed about her situation at work, it’s because her job is on her mind and she wants to get it out of her mind. Respect that need and she will not only be grateful, but suddenly she’ll be much more likely to take an interest in what’s on your mind.

If you want to connect with people, make this your social mantra:

Always let the speaker be the star.

Whatever their performance is, whether it’s a story about something their kid is doing in school, a trip to Europe they’re planning, a complaint about what so-and-so said to them earlier — be the most respectful audience you can be.  The chair they are sitting in, the doorway they are standing in, wherever they are — that’s their stage, their pulpit.  Let them say their piece, no matter what you think of the story, or what you would do in their place.

Really, really listen to what they say, and recognize that they are saying what they’re saying because it is important to them.  In every single thing every person says, they reveal what they value.  When you can get a glimpse of what people value, you can see the humanity in them.  And that is how humans connect: by understanding each other’s values.  You don’t have to share those values, though you’ll certainly find you share something with everyone.

I am not into hunting.  I have no interest in shooting a deer or a goose for fun.  But I do know some who do, and in my more conscious moments, I can genuinely appreciate everything a friend tells me about hunting.  The specifics of his anecdotes are not so important; it’s the glint of excitement in his eyes, and more importantly, the enthusiasm that swells in him when he realizes somebody is actually being receptive to his story.  I reserve my judgments; there’s no need to batter anyone over the head with my own stances.  There would be no communication at all if I did that.  Judgments just get in the way and do neither party any good.

To simply know what it feels like to hold something dear, and understand that we all know that feeling — that means you can understand anybody.  But only if you genuinely make a point of seeing where they’re coming from.  Our failing is that we’re usually much more concerned with being understood than with understanding.  Those who reverse those two priorities are very effective communicators and will never have a shortage of friends.

The Barrier

Distraction, in some form, is what typically prevents understanding.  Distraction is letting your attention wander from the other person’s performance.  It could be captured by what they’re wearing, a TV screen, a book in your hands, anything around you.  But the most common place for it to go is into your own (the listener’s) thoughts.  Most people are distracted by what they themselves would like to say.  Sometimes they want to respond before the person is finished, other times they simply have their own opinion locked and loaded to fire off as soon as there is a break in the dialogue.

Forget what you want to say, just drop all thoughts about yourself and your interests, and let them speak their mind.  Think of it this way: when you are listening, the most important thing in the world is to figure out where the other person is coming from.  Make it your entire purpose on earth — for the thirty-seven seconds it takes for them to tell their little story — to understand what feelings are behind what they say.  If, when they stop speaking, you still don’t understand where they’re coming from, ask a question.

All it takes is putting your own interests on hold until they are able to get their point across to you.

The habit of really listening to what someone is saying is a rare one.  And the people who do it can connect with anyone.  I’ve understood the value of being a good listener for a long time, but I didn’t really know what it meant to be one.  I know now: it means to cherish other people’s desire to express themselves more than your own desire to express yourself. Really, just completely defer your interests for as long as it takes for you to understand them.

That idea might scare some people.  Surely our own opinions are important too!

Relax.  You don’t have to worry about being understood, and here’s why: when you make a point of dumping your own thoughts to make room for understanding, people are so grateful that you are trying to see their perspective, they’ll be happy to listen to you afterward.  By then, what they wanted to say is no longer on their mind, so then they won’t be distracted by it while you are speaking.

In other words, take turns understanding each other, but insist on going first. Let the other person have the privilege of being the first one to be understood.  The biggest distraction to understanding someone else is self-importance.  Needing to say something means you have to be thinking about it, and thinking about it means you have very little mental capacity left for empathy.  Free up yours, and it will free up theirs.

Imagine what the world would be like if everyone did this.

That’s all anyone wants, to be understood.  Give it to them.  Give the greatest of all gifts, every time you have the opportunity.  Unless the building is on fire, give yourself permission to let the speaker be the center of your universe, just for a minute.  It won’t hurt, I promise. Forget what you were going to say.  Forget how you might wish to respond.  You can do that all later.  Abandon everything else in the world for the few seconds it takes to let the other person finish their thought.

At first, you will probably experience some angst at the thought of abandoning what you were going to say. Drop it anyway, and see if your life suffers.  (It won’t.)  So what if you didn’t get to make the wisecrack you had saved up?  So what if you don’t get to tell them about your upcoming trip to Europe?

Once you resolve to let all that baggage go, it’s actually a tremendous relief.  It’s like dropping an armload of textbooks you’ve had held against your chest.  You  no longer have to struggle to keep track of your thoughts.  You can safely let them all go.  Let them drift away, unfinished and unfollowed. 99% of them never needed to be said anyway.  And don’t worry, the truly important thoughts will be persistent enough to come back to you when nobody else is speaking.  You will get your chance to make yourself understood, just don’t try to be first in line.

There is such a strong compulsion to make our own opinion known, that even the most courteous among us will often practically ignore what the person says, or even interrupt them.  Most of the time the hurried remarks we do make are just little indulgences, self-important grabs at approval or admiration.

I know that I personally have a history of saying things for the sole purpose of sounding clever, or arousing the fondness of others.  I built my whole identity on looking smart, for years and years.  I didn’t know who I was without that approval, so I was constantly digging for it.  It’s really just a bad habit, to grab at the little ego boosts those self-indulgent remarks provide.  I would even call it an addiction, but that’s a whole other post.  For now let’s just say many of us are very strongly drawn to seeking approval by pointing out certain things or telling certain stories, and it impedes understanding others considerably.

The truth is, your opinions probably aren’t that important.  And neither are the other person’s.  Opinions will come and go, they speak mostly to our emotional state at the time we declare them.  There is usually very little logic behind them, just feelings.  And that’s okay.  There is a brilliant Zen saying:  Do not seek the truth, only cease to cherish opinions. This is not a prescription for dismissing what the other person is saying, only for cherishing the human being behind the words, rather than the back-and-forth play of semantics and mental positions.

I’ll be the first to say I’m really not all that good at this yet.  I’ve been getting better and better at relating to people, but old habits do indeed die hard.  But I now understand clearly where I went wrong so often, and I know what to do instead.  The specific concept of letting others be the star only came to me fairly recently, and I’m astounded at the results so far.  My friends and family suddenly became ten times more interesting, not to mention strangers, clients, clerks and passers-by.  I no longer have that bubble of angst growing inside me when someone else is speaking, because I know I can safely drop whatever I was going to say.  More and more I get to witness that wonderful sense of gratitude that washes over people when someone makes a genuine effort to understand them.

And when you do get your chance to speak, their eyes will be glued to you, and you’ll probably have the best audience you ever had.

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It absolutely helps to make a point of getting better at all aspects of conversation. Leil Lowndes’s How to Talk to Anyone is a quick read and will leave you with dozens of new tools. You will always have quite a few practice sessions offered to you every day.

Photo by VisualPanic


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{ 171 Comments }

Kim April 5, 2009 at 3:59 am

Hi,
I came across your blog and have thoroughly enjoyed my visit. You have a way of putting into words those things that some of us just sense.
Maybe it is just where I am at the moment, but how much of this is “preaching to the converted”? I noted a while back that I spent a conversation thinking up the next thing to say, so now try very hard to listen to what people have to say. The problem is that I feel really let down at times when it is not reciprocated.
Keep up the good work
Kim

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linda October 5, 2013 at 5:49 pm

I agree w/ all but I’ve done this for years and it’s all good but when people become so used to you being the listener (the rare good one) they no longer even ask me once how I am and use me as a ground for “unloading” all their stuff (good and bad). Any advice appreciated. Thanks:)

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Vinny @ Yinnergy April 5, 2009 at 4:47 am

You have brought up some very important points on how to really “connect” with another person.

Listen – Understand – Reasons(their “why” factor)

For me, I find it a privilege to be able to take the time and “listen” to what someone has to say before answering. They have the “talking” stick now, and so I just let them speak their mind.
You are right about “why” people say what they say. Imagine really “reading” the person’s body language, facial expression and of course their every inflection and tone change. Then you will really start to immerse yourself in the conversation and really understand the overall meaning.

As for Barriers:
No matter what the surrounding is like and however many external distractions there are, I still focus solely on the speaker. I find it helps to focus on the eyes of your speaker for the most part, just not all the time :-)

Reciprocation is key, especially for conversations.

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Vinny @ Yinnergy April 5, 2009 at 4:56 am

This post reminds me of a book that I highly recommend unless you’ve read it already David is:
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie

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Roger | A Content Life April 5, 2009 at 7:11 am

David,

Another eloquent, useful post!

I’m going to try your advice for the remainder of my vacation (1 week). I usually spend time thinking about what I’m going to say while the other person is talking.

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Jay Schryer April 5, 2009 at 7:45 am

This is an awesome post! I like that you have so many practical tips to execute the advice that you are giving. It’s easy to tell people “Be a better listener”, but you’ve given a lot of practical advice on how to do that, and that is what makes this post so great! I especially like: “…cherish other people’s desire to express themselves more than your own desire to express yourself.” This, I think, is the true essence of being a great listener. Cherish the one talking, and give them your full attention. If we all try to do this, then we can make the world a better place for all of us!

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Lisis | Quest For Balance April 5, 2009 at 9:08 am

Beautiful… as always.

I find that when I travel to non-English speaking countries I get an unforgettable lesson in being a good listener: paying attention to all non-verbal clues in order to truly understand not only meaning, but intent. Perhaps having a common language is actually a barrier to communication because we stop noticing the details inherent in body language.

I like your idea of taking turns, and being the first to fully listen.

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Michael April 5, 2009 at 10:30 am

Another beautiful post, David.

Considering each others’ needs in the way you have described is also a powerful prescription for non-violence.

Thank you!

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David April 5, 2009 at 12:31 pm

@ Michael — Thanks! Yes, this kind of listening has tremendous implications for not just interpersonal communication, but international as well. You simply can’t adopt an adversarial stance against someone when you are trying to understand them

@ Lisis — That’s something I never thought of; I haven’t done much foreign travel. But yee, I suppose a language barrier does make us invest more effort towards understanding. I’ll try that out next time I’m away.

@ Jay — Hi Jay, good to hear from you. I try to include some practical instruction in each post, not just as guides to my readers, but to help me remember to do these things in my own life.

@ Roger — Thanks for the kind works. I’m about to head out and I’ll be keeping my mantra at the forefront of my mind as I interact. Sometimes I forget. Enjoy your vacation!

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David April 5, 2009 at 12:38 pm

@ Vinny — Yeah, the ‘talking stick’ is a great way of thinking about it. Native Americans recognized this lesson a long time ago. And yes, I loved Carnegie’s book. I think it should be required reading in high school. It really is about putting the other person first as a policy, which always helps both parties.

I think your other comment got eaten up by my spam blocker because it had multiple links. I’ll see if I can get it put back.

@ Kim — Hi Kim, welcome to Raptitude. I’m not sure how many people reading this are ‘converted’, but I suspect it is a minority. I’m not fully ‘converted’ myself; I’m still integrating this philosophy into my habits. It does hurt when others don’t make the same effort to understand, but I am convinced that trying to understand them will give you the best possible chance at being well received yourself. Hemingway was right; some people just don’t listen.

I’m glad you’re enjoying Raptitude. Remember to subscribe if you haven’t already! Thanks for visiting me.

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Vinny @ Yinnergy April 5, 2009 at 3:37 pm

Yes, the talking stick should be mandatory in grade school again…hehe
I remembered always looking forward to every morning for our daily “discussions” session and using the talking stick in grade 2.

Those links I gave you goes in depth about the connection between memory and our 5 senses.

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Nadia - Happy Lotus April 5, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Hi David,

Excellent post, David. Each person has a reason for why they do the things that they do. Most of the time people are so consumed with their opinion of what is right and wrong, they judge the other person without trying to understand them. Their egos take over and they lose all sense of reason. The interesting thing is none of us are perfect…yet we try so hard to appear perfect, we miss the important fact that we can learn from each other. :)

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Stephen - Rat Race Trap April 5, 2009 at 4:17 pm

“But the most common place for it to go is into your own (the listener’s) thoughts. Most people are distracted by what they themselves would like to say. Sometimes they want to respond before the person is finished, other times they simply have their own opinion locked and loaded to fire off as soon as there is a break in the dialogue.”

Guilty. I’m so bad at listening, but I’m going to try really hard to improve. Thanks for your wonderful insights.

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Ian | Quantum Learning April 6, 2009 at 5:21 am

David

Really wonderful post.

I often think the most interesting people are those who can really listen. Those who, when they speak, say something relevant to the listener – and they can only do that when they are listening with their whole being themselves.

Seems to me that most of our education is geared towards the skill of expressing ourselves. I don’t recall any education on the equally important (if not more so) skill of listening.

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janice April 6, 2009 at 6:20 am

Hi David,
I’m a new visitor and a new blogger. I came via Nadia but recognised you from Write to Done. You write beautifully and so, so wisely! Lovely blog!

I’m a coach so have had to learn to listen to silences and sighs over a phone as well as to the words people say. I find writing is the perfect counterpoint to the attentive listening I do when I’m with people. (I’m quite shy and gauche at times and can tend to talk too much through an old anxiety default. Coaching has helped me calm it.) My posts and pieces are too long, my comments look like they’ve been written by an over exuberant puppy, but I know people can just scroll, scan and click away with no rudeness. As readers, we have that power. Getting a lot of ‘me-ness’ out of my system when I’m writing means I can focus on trying to listen better to others in real life. I also love reading other people’s comments on blogs too; it’s like enjoying listening to a great conversation that you’re not taking an active role in.

I know you like quotes so here’s one for your collection:

Holy listening – to “listen” another’s soul into life, into a condition of disclosure and discovery, may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another. ~ Douglas Steere

And please answer Nadia’s meme tag!

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David Cain April 6, 2009 at 8:24 am

@ Janice — Thanks Janice. Great quote. Your comments are always welcome.

@ Ian — Now that I think about it, that’s true. In school they did teach us to express ourselves, and not so much to allow others to express themselves to us.

@ Stephen — Hi, welcome to Raptitude. I’m definitely guilty too. Trying to get better though.

@ Nadia — Always good to hear from you : )

@ Vinny — Ah, I see. Those links were in a different post. They’re back up and I’ll check them out.

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Laurie | Express Yourself to Success April 6, 2009 at 9:16 am

Thanks for this very thoughtful and well-written post, David!

I find that the more I listen, the more friends I have and the better my relationships are. Listening shows others that they are valued, appreciated and, as you point out so well, the listener doesn’t have to share the interest in the topic to show interest in the individual.

It’s so much easier to have a conversation with someone when you’re not always thinking of what to say next and trying to be the one talking. Listening is the ‘other side of the coin’ in the conversation, and I think it’s the more valuable side.

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David April 6, 2009 at 12:33 pm

I agree, it is the more valuable side. I am convinced it can improve any relationship, at home, at work, anywhere.

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Positively Present April 6, 2009 at 2:44 pm

It’s so important to consider other people when attempting to connect with them. This sounds obvious, but, in the quest to get out our own messages and convey our own points of view, this often gets lost. Last week, I wrote a post on effective communication, which ties in very well with this post.

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Ariel April 6, 2009 at 8:29 pm

This is brilliant. Thank you. :)

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David April 6, 2009 at 9:44 pm

@ Ariel — Thank you sir!

@ Positively Present — I just read your post… have you read Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg? I bought it but haven’t read it yet, but your post made me remember it. His ideas would probably interest you, I know Ian from Quantum Learning is a big fan.

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Evelyn Lim April 7, 2009 at 7:17 am

Excellent post! The most important person at any one time is the person right in front of us. Yet, very often, we don’t give fully to the person. Giving fully simply means listening with an open heart and mind. Instead, it is more about pushing our own agendas or making sure that our own messages are heard. Therein lies the reason why communication breakdowns happen.

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Chris Edgar | Purpose Power Coaching April 8, 2009 at 4:36 pm

Thanks for this post. One thing I’d add is how helpful I’ve found reflecting the other person’s wants and feelings back to them, in the style described in Nonviolent Communication. If someone says “I hate my job,” for example, reflecting back to them that I’m getting that they’re feeling angry does so much more to create connection than, say, asking why or arguing that their job really isn’t that bad. best, Chris

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David April 8, 2009 at 4:54 pm

@ Chris — Yes I’m excited to read NVC. I’ve owned it for a while but I’m still working through a long to-read queue. I think that’s a great idea you mentioned. I’ve learned that often people don’t really want to know what I think they should do, they just want someone to understand. Sometimes I forget that and go into advice-mode. Thanks for your comment, and welcome to Raptitude.

@ Evelyn — Hi Evelyn! Good to hear from you. If you haven’t read it yet, I think you’d appreciate this post by Gwynn from Serene Journey.

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Jeff April 11, 2009 at 3:58 am

Thanks for the beautiful post David.

Your piece resonates very much with the Quaker approach which has been called a ‘listening spirituality’. I love what you say about allowing the speaker to be the star. That will stick in my mind as a wonderful reminder.

“Holy listening—to ‘listen’ another’s soul into life, into a condition of disclosure and discovery–may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another.”

( from ‘On Listening’ by Douglas Steere)

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David April 11, 2009 at 8:49 am

Hi Jeff, Welcome to Raptitude. The Quakers have always intrigued me; I’d like to learn more about them.

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Jeff April 13, 2009 at 7:37 am

Thanks David.

If you are interested in finding more about Q’s then a good place to start is

http://www.quakerinfo.org

I live in England but this looks to be a good intro for the States.

Very much enjoying your Blog.

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David Cain April 13, 2009 at 7:55 am

Thanks Jeff!

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Nate @ ItStartsWith.Us July 16, 2009 at 8:57 am

Wow.
.-= Nate @ ItStartsWith.Us´s last blog ..Thank You =-.

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Tas Tasniem August 30, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Hi David

Some great advice. I’ve just made your blog compulsive reading for all my staff at Swiftpro, and look forward to more fruitful internal meetings. We are a software company, and I often find, no one has bothered to listen to the speaker’s thoughts and ideas because they are to busy formulating own thoughts and ideas and getting ready to speak. Not as productive as 1st listening and then enhancing on the initial speakers ideas.

An interesting point about talking sticks with regards to an earlier response here. We do that at these meetings but point is no one is really listening but anxiously waiting for the talking stick.

Regards
Tas

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David August 30, 2009 at 8:04 pm

Hey that’s great Tas. To think that my writing might improve the quality of meetings somewhere means a lot to me. Most meetings I’ve been to could use all the help they can get. ;)

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Chris September 24, 2009 at 10:51 pm

This is some really top notch stuff. It’s like Carnegie’s classic “How to Win Friends & Influence People” a ton of correlation between your post and his book. Gotta be one of my favorite posts I’ve ever seen online ever!

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David September 25, 2009 at 6:32 am

Thanks Chris. I love Carnegie’s book and his philosophy definitely influenced mine.

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Doug Rosbury October 3, 2009 at 2:19 pm

I come to each meeting with another person as an empty container
to be filled with new wisdom. How can i ever think of myself as
finished or even intelligent without others to support and from whom to receive not only their wisdom but my own reflection
to learn about who i am and how i can learn what it means to
be one with God and so it seems, to be one with another is to
be one with God. To listen is to be not oneself but the other
and therefore to listen to and by that to be one with the creator.———-Doug Rosbury

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David October 4, 2009 at 8:44 am

Well said Doug.

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Nea | Self Improvement Saga October 4, 2009 at 1:16 am

Excellent article! It’s easy to become so focused upon our own thoughts, opinions, and agendas that we neglect the opportunity to understand others. This annoys others if they notice, but it is most damaging to the person who does not know how to listen. Without effective listening skills, personal growth is severely limited.
.-= Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last blog ..6 Ways to Escape Your Regrets =-.

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David October 4, 2009 at 8:46 am

Glad you liked it Nea. The tough part (at least for me) is remembering to do it.

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Doug Rosbury October 4, 2009 at 6:12 pm

Arrogance is a refusal to listen. Those who do not listen are destined to not be listened to. your present world gives you the
opportunity to be part of Gods plan,but unless you learn to listen with humility, your next world will be one in which your own voice
will not be heard. In Gods plan, all worlds belong to all, however,
unless you learn to listen, you will be excluded from the joys of that plan and you will wander in desolation.—-Doug Rosbury

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gigi October 11, 2009 at 8:24 am

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gigi October 11, 2009 at 8:27 am

gigi abita ed e residente in via vesuvio 56 92015 raffadali dalla nasctita per tutta l’eternità

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Doug Rosbury October 11, 2009 at 12:06 pm

My goal is to enlighten others. How to become happier is to
encourage yourself to release self perceived lack of interest in
new ideas that you had not thought of. Ego blocks new ideas
(the sense of self importance) (arrogance) Arrogance and egotism
are one and the same. Arrogance has levels of expression. Human
desire for self protection results in an arrogant attitude. Most of us
exhibit this arrogant attitude including perhaps the reader of this
presentation. Check out your attitude. let it go. Let compassion
take its place. When you do this, you can relax. And then,
The light of wisdom can enter your corrupted thoughts.–Doug

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Doug Rosbury October 11, 2009 at 12:22 pm

The reason for our depression is our habit of self protective
thinking and its selfish effect on our personality. The daily (STRUGGLE) is the result of dwelling in a self created and self limiting attitude. Let it go and float in a sky of letting go of your
own limited world of habitual self doubt. Float away. Your affairs
and your livelihood (job) will take care of themselves and you will
attract automatically, a world of peace and enjoyment. (BE) Your
spirit self. Give yourself permission to be free. Your beliefs have created your lack of joy. Forget all that has not worked.
If it works, enjoy it. If it doesn’t work, let it go.—Doug

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Zeke October 23, 2009 at 11:21 am

Excellent advice, I help people with their job search,and, although everyone talks about networking/connecting to find a job, most people don’t know how to do it because they won’t listen. I’m reading The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Enhancing Self-Esteem (yes I’m an idiot),by Mark Warner Ed.D, and he talks about when someone starts talking, how many words hit your eardrum, before your mouth starts going? As American’s we probably need a little more patience also, I have three kids who operate at high speeds. Thanks for the great advice, I will try today.

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Doug Rosbury October 23, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Dear friends, People are typically cautious about being open about
their objectives in life due to their desire to be independent, but
they may not realize that this “independence” runs contrary to what is known as “unity” among members of society. In other words that we are interconnected and this separation syndrome
that masquerades as independence is an illusion that is a mistake
of perception. The spiritual reality is that we are in fact, one
phenomenon. In the spiritual sense, we are one body. One
spiritual body. This wrongful perception is to be overcome through Love. Love knows the true reality and can and will find a way that works for those who wish to work together.
Respect and compassion and a willingness to listen are the tools
which must be used when two or more people are attempting to work together. the first attitude that will cause disruption
is that of arrogance. We must restrain any tendency to wish to control the process of communication, or to otherwise interfere
with the necessary and more thoughtful means of interaction by
injecting our own attitudes and ideas for personal aggrandizement and the glorification of our sense of self importance, or egotism. We must be obedient to the highest
means of achieving our objectives. If we do not and insist on control out of fear, we will inherit disaster.— Doug Rosbury

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Heinz November 4, 2009 at 8:42 pm

Remarkable how you conscious about this stuff!

As I was reading your text I also thought about how I wanted to comment your text, preparing for a response while I was reading. I completely get what you are saying but I have to train on being like this.

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David November 5, 2009 at 6:32 am

I do that too, Heinz. I am even guilty of having commented on a blog post without actually reading the whole thing. It’s strange how powerful the draw is to make our own opinions known, even if we aren’t willing to really consider someone else’s. It does take practice to be patient like that.

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Doug Rosbury November 4, 2009 at 9:47 pm

What did Jesus mean when he said “Love one another”?
I think it’s beneficial to study love, because “Love” is a code word
meaning “How to get along with each other” and contains all the necessary instructions for that activity. Find out what those instructions are and put them into practice.——Doug Rosbury

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AishaJ November 17, 2009 at 9:22 am

This post was very insightful – I keep reading it over and over…

Thanks!

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David November 18, 2009 at 4:27 am

Thanks Aisha!

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Michal December 12, 2009 at 5:16 am

HEy David. I scanned all the comments so far and I’m surprised no one has mentioned two very important caveats with the method you outline.

1) It only applies to one on one conversations*
2) not every stranger will just start talking to you **

I would like to elaborate, of course.

I am also quite interested in the subject of getting outside of my family/friends comfort zones so I lately I’ve been going out to bars or other places solo to try to make fresh connections without the help of others. I have been finding that people are more than often reserved and/or it is not easy for me to ‘open people up’.

Of course, men and women are very different. I am a guy and it is easier for me to connect to guys than women, but in general, walking into others’ conversations is slightly tricky. Usually, there are strong social bonds between the people you meet, but it is your job to learn that some people do not actually know each other as well as others. But let me get back to those two points

1) * We know that 4 is roughly the max before group conversations break into subsets, but I find that if all you are doing is listening in 3 and 4 person conversations, then you are basically Left Out of them. My experience in slightly noisier places also, is that it is difficult to hear people and when you miss a few threads to comment on, the group you had just ‘entered’ before, naturally picks up its momentum and leaves you on the side line.

It’s not that people are rude, but if per your subject, we’re talking about meeting new people in unfamiliar circumstances, then we have to deal with the challenges of getting into other peoples’ conversations without _only_ being a listening bystander. It is not easy to get a word in edgewise.

Given the above and the awesomeness of what you talk about ( the one on one) , one can ‘turn people away’ from their groups to begin your own one-on-ones. That is, if you approach a group of 4, you can extricate one to face you away from the other three. Same with a group of 3, but not with a group of 2, since then the other person will be standing all alone.

2) ** If you are all alone, why would someone accept you into their group of friends? Well actually it has been rare for me to get ‘rejected’ when starting conversations with groups in bars, but when I have difficulty finding common topics of discussion with those people, I end up getting sidelined. The group already has its familiarity and you have to compete with it.

So! I am really curious about what you have to say about these sorts of group dynamics issues. I am sure you have given this a lot of thought yourself.

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sahil February 17, 2010 at 4:19 am

hi David,
I stumbled on this blog and really loved it. your all posts are awesome.
my problem is, I’m always lack of words. If I have to explain a 2 hours movie to some one I do it in 5 minutes and again it is silence. how can I improve to talk long. actually I can not wait for the ppl who looking at me so I just want to finish my topic as soon as possible.
how to avoid this shyness?
I dont go in deep of the topic what I talking, I use to be alerted for the near environment what other people are doing are they laughing on me, who’s coming and going from that place, what is other’s activity etc. and if there is some thing disturbs me I really stop talking and I dont know where I left and how to start it again.
now you can imagine. how difficult it is for a person to become a great listener if he’s listening my topics.
and yeah.. I’d really Like to read your comments about what michal pointed out.
waiting for your next post…….
Thanks you very much.

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Michal April 18, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Hi @sahil , I don’t think being brief is a bad thing. You are specific and to the point. Talking for hours can make people fall asleep. Conferences used to give people hour long talking spots, but these days a few places have adopted lightning-talks , like on ted.com.

The best talking style is one which is clear, concise and full of wit to keep people listening. Comedians are great at getting their point across and keeping people attentive.

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Doug Rosbury February 17, 2010 at 6:11 am

“Getting better at being human”? What does that mean? First, we
must understand the question. The question I feel I must ask is
who am I truly? That, for me comes first. Am I human or is being
human a role I am playing on the stage of life as Shakespeare has
said? This question changes everything. If I am playing a role,
Then, It would follow that I am not human and that how to be a better human Would be better known as known from a higher
source If who I really am is one who knows how to be a better human because the knower is one who has created the human.
In other words, if who I truly am is spirit rather than human.

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Vibhor Chandel February 24, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Well Said and its true….this is what the yoga of understanding people states !
.-= Vibhor Chandel´s last blog ..CSS Basics — CSS Border Property.( Screencast ) =-.

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Babyfish March 9, 2010 at 4:46 am

I dont think this is really true. I used to do what you suggested, but in the end i found i’m actually the one who have been iganored all the time. Sometimes people dont really care if you listen or not. they just want to express themself.

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Vanessa March 29, 2010 at 1:41 pm

this blog came at a very convenient time for me. i’ve been feeling lately like everyone in my life has been wanting my attention and needing me to be their audience. i feel ready to listen now.

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Doug Rosbury March 29, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Compassion is a whole thing. To be a whole thing, it must look both ways, within and without. inner and outer are both aspects,
both halves of a whole. If you only look within for the solution to a problem, you are missing half of the answer. If you only look
without, it’s the same problem. Every problem is mine as well as yours. we share problems as a whole matter. Not just mine and
not just yours. not just me but also you. humility allows for
looking both ways. I must be willing to give credit to me but
also to you. A problem is a partnership. Self importance
is looking only within. It is to only think of self as important.
It is called egotism. in any problem, others are equal in
importance. Compassion makes others equal. Look both ways

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Chris April 6, 2010 at 1:35 am

Just read this. Wow! Thank you! I am painfully shy. I never even post online. I have to comment this time. As soon as I finished reading this a friend I have had problems connecting with contacted me. We just had the best conversation. Who knew? Just really listen! I though I was listening before but I guess not. Thank you again!

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Doug Rosbury April 8, 2010 at 5:50 pm

When I meet an individual human, I am struck by a certain
manifestation of his or her energy configuration. This person presents me with an opportunity to have an experience unlike any
other. It seems there is an excitement at confronting a whole
new universe of experience and instruction to partake of. I think we should practice humility and respect at such a moment. How
would we wish the other person to act toward us? Think of the
many opportunities we have for interpersonal access and how
many we spoil when we practice egotism. —–Doug Rosbury

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Don April 18, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Hi David,

I agree with most of this article, except for the parts about how people will respond to being listened to. I try very hard to exercise the principles you describe here, but I consistently meet people who will not reciprocate. They talk and talk and then never ask me anything.

I once spent an entire weekend with someone who told me all about themselves, gladly entertained my desires to learn more about them and understand them better, and then never asked me anything at all about me. It was so draining to pour myself into understanding them. This happens to me all the time. Family members who talk all night about their trip to the next town and never ask about my vacation across the country.

The problem is the assumption that my good listening will spur good listening in others. But, this doesn’t make sense because I have to work hard at being a good listener. The talker isn’t necessarily going to be inspired by my listening and then suddenly become a good listener in that moment. If they haven’t worked to become a good listener, then they won’t be one just because I listened to them. We have to somehow find the strength to listen and understand others even if they never do the same for us. Even if no one ever reciprocates.

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David April 18, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Hi Don,

It is true, some people will never reciprocate. Like the Hemingway quote says, most people never listen.

I didn’t advise listening purely to get them to listen to you. That really defeats the purpose. I am still convinced that if a connection can exist between you and someone else, listening uncommonly well gives you the best chance. Imagine how poorly these same people would listen if you were trying to make yourself understood before they could say what they wanted to say.

When you watch conversations, you can see in their faces that many people never listen.

I’ve received a lot of emails about people’s experience with this technique and the results vary a lot. Some say it makes no difference in how others listen, and others say it has completely changed their socialization experience.

It does matter where you live. Culture has a lot to do with it. Since I’ve been traveling, I’ve tried this exercise quite a lot and I’ve noticed that the ability to listen varies dramatically by nationality. It’s actually very interesting.

These are *general* tendencies, of course: Americans are the poorest listeners, no question; Canadians are better but still not very good; Germans and Dutch are quite good; Japanese are excellent; English are adequate, but clearly better than Americans and Canadians; Scandinavians are very good; the French are patient and polite listeners but they do not feign interest if the topic doesn’t suit them ;) ; Australians do like to talk a lot but are better at listening than I’m used to seeing in Canadians, and New Zealanders are better still.

If you are American or Canadian I am not surprised you find most people just won’t listen. There is very little in our North American mass culture that encourages understanding others. Two of our biggest cultural values are recognition — being appreciated and esteemed — and victory — winning (which necessarily makes someone else lose,) dominating others, asserting your superiority, being “right.” These values rule in mainstream news and entertainment, and they undermine listening and understanding others.

I tend to gravitate away from people who never listen.

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Michal April 18, 2010 at 8:23 pm

@David , I think your last point is really important. I was on this thought track in a December 12 comment above too. Here are a few connections.

(1) The problem with not talking to people who do not listen is that you may have to WORK WITH THEM. We choose friends but not co-workers. You have to deal with them anyway.

(2) I think “recognition” and “victory” in conversation lead to free-market conversation. That is, those people who raise the most group-popular thoughts will score the most political points for the given time. The alternatives are (a) everyone agreeing with each other and saying “that sounds great, what do you think of …” and (b) a conversation where you fight to get your turn to speak.

(3) If you have a group discussion over food, there can be one or many ‘alpha’ speakers. They will set the pace and everyone else will be most interested in getting their attention. Alpha will try to always trump what others point out and rarely agree or admit fault in their arguments.

Given (1), (2) and (3) above, I think it is important to learn to be successful in group discussions, because just listening to the alphas will not get you anywhere. You will appear to be reticent and you will be called out on that. That’s how I used to be until I started being more proactive in group conversations.

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David April 19, 2010 at 6:05 pm

You make good points. “Free-market conversation” is a fascinating term. That is what happens, particularly in counties immersed in free-market values.

Marigold March 15, 2014 at 4:06 am

Hi Don
Listening to people 100% is very reinforcing for them, and they get the message that what they are saying is very interesting to you so they continue and it feels great for them! This dynamic is great in therapy, but in real life it is one-sided and leaves you feeling drained. Of course it’s better if both parts are equally involved in listening and engaging in understanding the other’s position–that is what makes for a true connection.

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Michal April 18, 2010 at 6:33 pm

@Don , I once called a friend out on this quite poignantly, after not being able to stand it for years. I don’t know if I was the only one, but incredibly, he must have taken this to heart and completely changed his behavior. Now four years down the road, he speaks to people completely without sounding self-centered as before.

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David April 18, 2010 at 7:09 pm

It’s amazing how that works sometimes. We can be completely unaware of our habits until someone calls us on it.

One day I was having a friendly “conversation” with a coworker, and he said “Dave, you are so argumentative. You always disagree.”

Of course, I argued that he was wrong :) but suddenly it was clear to me that he was right, and I have really changed my attitude about arguing with others.

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Michal April 18, 2010 at 8:36 pm

@David do you know Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People? Carnegie says straight up that you can’t win arguments by how good they are. ( Debates are different because you are not trying to convince your opponent, but the judges). It is all about pride I think.

Information can only pass when people have their guard down. Essentially, Carnegie says the other person will consider what you say if you discuss the validity of their points and admit that you ‘want to know the answer’ but you want to work together in finding the answers.

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David April 19, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Yes, I am a big fan of Carnegie’s book, and you’ve highlighted his main point there: communication only happens when people are not resisting it. Argument creates walls immediately. As soon as you tell someone they are wrong, they stop listening (assuming they were listening in the first place.) In my experience, people let their guard down when you show them their ideas are valued.

Swapna Raghu Sanand June 8, 2010 at 12:47 pm

I loved this article because it is simple, crisp, relevant and unpretentious. I loved the feel and tone of this conversation because I felt I could relate to it.

Best,
Swapna

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susie June 27, 2010 at 5:50 pm

i loved it….so so true!! I’ve always let others be the star!!

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Scott July 26, 2010 at 5:47 pm

This is difficult for “geeky” types of people who feel they need to set things right when other people saw things that are not true. It is very difficult. One one hand I see the need to set wrongs right and stop the flow of misinformation wherever possible, but I also see that true listening does make a good friend. I guess you just have to determine what is appropriate for each situation.

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Jan July 30, 2010 at 1:18 pm

That was good! I need to do this more and more!

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David September 20, 2010 at 5:53 pm

“our minds are already busy forming a response”, I like that one. When it happens to me, I hate that coz you actually don’t listen at the other person

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Daily Success Place October 5, 2010 at 3:11 pm

You said,
“Always try to understand what people really mean when they speak.”

I think this is one of the biggest communication gaps in unsuccessful relationships. We add our own meaning to something said without considering that someone else may have a totally different opinion of the same thing.

We must open ourselves up to the opinions of other’s without compromising our values.

Great stuff David.

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Lissa November 2, 2010 at 4:50 am

Thank you so much for this.

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James Fulton November 19, 2010 at 6:57 am

Always let the speaker be the star. I love this part. 99% of the people will come under this category. Most of the time listening will work both in personal and professional life. Thanks for bringing up this wonderful article…

James

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Harley November 27, 2010 at 9:44 pm

You make a lot of good points, but none seem to completely answer my particular concerns. My concern is for when you try to communicate with someone such as myself, who usually only listens and rarely expresses their own opinion. I don’t usually talk about myself unless someone seems to genuinely want to know, and even then I do not say much out of fear of judgement or just because I don’t know the person. Some people are just quiet, especially when you first meet them. You have to really pry them in order to get their opinion at all, and if you pry too much or seem too interested, they may feel awkward and shy away from you. How do you start relationships with these people?

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David November 27, 2010 at 10:35 pm

All you can do is try to make a person have a good experience when they talk to you. For most people, a chance to talk about what is important to them will do this. But others are afraid to open up, afraid to express an opinion. There is a clear difference between being interested and prying. It isn’t hard to sense when you’re making somebody uncomfortable, if you’re looking for it. Some people are nearly always anxious in conversations and you may not be able to do anything about that. There’s no magic bullet but you can get a lot of mileage out of this.

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Whitney Hyshka December 11, 2010 at 7:03 pm

I actively try to listen, and yet, I still can feel myself either thinking about what I want to say or thinking about my own experience with the topic. Sometimes, it takes forcing myself to really listen and stop my thoughts or at least my words.
I think this tendency is really ingrained into us from a young age, like you said David, it just the human race. Most people don’t concern themselves with trying to make new friends and appreciate every person they come into contact with. I am so happy that there are people spreading the awareness.

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Nikki V. December 21, 2010 at 10:01 am

Just starting reading your articles! I must say I am thoroughly enjoying the read… Thank you!

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Ron January 24, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Hello,
thank you for this valuable article.

english is not me nativ language. can you or some one else (someone of the other commetors) please explain this sentece or give an example:

“To simply know what it feels like to hold something dear, and understand that we all know that feeling — that means you can understand anybody. But only if you genuinely make a point of seeing where they’re coming from. ”

like waht does it mean here “hold something dear” or “where they’re coming from” ?

thx

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David January 24, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Hi Ron,

“To hold something dear” means to love something. If I really love talking about football, then football is something I hold dear.

“where they’re coming from” in this case means “what the person is trying to say”

If we’re talking about something, and I say “I know where you’re coming from,” I’m saying I know exactly what you mean.

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Ron January 24, 2011 at 9:19 pm

this makes perfect sense now.

it tells a story about the person you are, that you took the effort to explain that.

thx

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carolina February 5, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Hello David, really just to tell you that I am so grateful to Jonathan Carroll’s facebook page, and to a friend who recommended it to me, as JC was the one who posted your website in december and I feel so blessed I clicked on the link. I find what you say, and how you say it, tremendously mindful, honest, vigorous.
I might be using this post of yours for a mindful communication exercise at one of my mindfulness classes in italy, and maybe post some of it on my mindfulness facebook page. Thank you. Carolina

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David February 7, 2011 at 8:17 pm

Well thanks Carolina, I’m glad you’re able to take something genuinely useful from this post. Love to hear how it passes from person to person to person.

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Stan February 8, 2011 at 10:51 pm

My wife always says “Talk to me”…What she doesn’t realize is I love to listen. I am not a talker, I observe and listen.

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sethabathaba February 24, 2011 at 1:54 pm

how can anyone help with best ways to elliminate shyness

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Andres February 25, 2011 at 8:56 am

Great article. Thanks.

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Julie March 2, 2011 at 3:10 pm

David!!! Totally my opinion ;) … but THIS is exactly why you would make a great “personal consultant” !!! “Cherishing the human being behind the words.” YES! It’s so not about giving advice, rather it is about holding a powerful space of loving attentiveness so the other can talk it out, be truly heard and seen, and feel supported in finding their own way. This is so rare, as you mentioned, and highly valuable!! I seem to be given this assignment from the Universe to keep bringing this up to you, but it is speaking so loudly to me ;) Do you find people coming to you more and more for “chats,” or emailing you with a kind of confessional type vibe? Hmmmm…

I want to share a few of my favorite listening quotes here since this is such a rich and beautiful subject!

“The Lotus Sutra describes Avalokiteshavra as the bodhisattva who practices ‘looking with the eyes of compassion and listening deeply to the cries of the world.’ You know the other person is suffering, so you sit close to her. You look and listen deeply to her to be able to touch her pain. You are in deep communication.. and that alone brings relief.” ~ Thich Nhat Hahn

“It is as though he listened and such listening as his enfolds us in a silence in which at last we begin to hear what we are meant to be.” ~ Lao-tse

And the grand finale… this is only a portion of the larger poem..

Do the stars listen, when we turn despairingly
Away from man, or the great winds, or the seas or
The mountains? To whom can any man say–
Here I am! Behold me in my nakedness, my
Wounds, my secret grief, my despair, my betrayal,
My pain, my tongue which cannot express my
Sorrow, my terror, my abandonment.
~Seneca

OK, thank you, David, for the wisdom and call to love! Such truths here. And you communicate it all so well! Oh, and such great comments from others, too. Lots o’ love vibes here on your site.

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David March 2, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Hi Julie. I do get a lot of people emailing me with a confessional type vibe, and I’m flattered that they trust me. It’s becoming overwhelming though and recently I’ve had to stop giving lengthy responses, or I’d never have any time left to write. I always love getting email from readers and helping people look at their problems differently, but I can’t let it squeeze my blogging time too much. I can reach a lot more people with an article than with an email response.

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David AM March 18, 2011 at 5:05 pm

I stumbled upon your blog on Stumbleupon.com and I gotta say your words are inspiring. It’s so nice to read a blog by a guy with the same name as me, telling it like it is. When I read these posts I can relate so well to them because it’s been years that I’ve been figuring out how to live my life in the way that you describe it in your posts. So kudos to you for starting this blog and getting the point across. I’m definitely a reader now. It feels nice to know that I’m not alone in my thoughts.

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Rob Lowry March 26, 2011 at 12:14 am

Wonderful post…I resonate strongly with what you have said, and have made it pretty much a life long habit already. Where I was hoping you would touch on, is the flip-side of this coin.

I’m often described as aloof or reserved … lots of people generalize this as quiet. Odd, as I’m anything but quiet. What I think this comes down to, is that I rarely take back the talking stick and this in some subtle way unnerves people. I often find myself completely immersed in the other person’s story and have nothing of my own I feel like contributing.

I’m of the opinion that people, when opening themselves up, expect a reciprocation. When they bare their soul to you, there is an expectation that you will do the same…a kind of tit-for-tat scenario. Cashier line conversations and the like are obvious exceptions. But, anybody you see with a frequency, or will be spending significant time around (say a dinner party), there seems to be an unwritten expectation: that we both bring something to the exchange.

My experience so far, and more importantly I guess, is my interpretation of those experiences, is that holy-listening is the key to establishing a connection, but ***you*** are expected to walk through that door once opened.

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Michael Lanning May 19, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Kudos, David! Thanks for the reminder and believe me, i need to be reminded of this a lot!! All the best…..m

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Mr. Jeff May 29, 2011 at 10:05 am

Connecting with people is probably the best post I’ve read, on the web, in a long time. Practicsing the suggestions helps me to learn more about listening. If anything I can now hear myself. I wonder if the writer could offer another post about the same subject?

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David May 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Well thank you Mr Jeff. I just might have to do that. This article was one of my very first and it’s bee going strong ever since.

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sara June 12, 2011 at 8:31 pm

What about when you listen too much? Since I’m quiet and introverted, and usually I don’t like to interrupt people a lot; I usually end up with friends who do all the talking and are completely uninterested in what I have to say. Then all my conversations are one-sided, and I end up with people who feel like they have such a great connection with me but who actually know nothing at all about me because since they enjoy talking so much I never get to talk at all.

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David June 19, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Speaking up is absolutely necessary in order to have a conversation. I don’t mean to suggest that you always defer to the other person, only that you really listen to what they’re getting at while they speak. If they don’t seem to be getting at anything except how interested they are in themselves, then maybe you don’t want to bother with them.

There are people out there who are uninterested in other people and will dominate the conversation if allowed, and I gravitate away from them.

If you are naturally quiet (like me), you have to learn to be a bit more assertive than may be comfortable in order to avoid always being the minor contributor to the conversation. You shouldn’t have to interrupt or finish people’s sentences to do this unless they are the type that can’t stop talking.

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yes June 19, 2011 at 9:09 pm

eeeeeeeeeeeeinteresting

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Gary July 20, 2011 at 1:20 pm

I really wish I read these posts sooner. I managed to realize some of the important aspects of connecting and listening well after a long period of struggling. I previously read books on socializing better, such as Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, but nothing resonated as much as the posts you’ve made because the thought processes you have are really similar to mine.

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Jane July 28, 2011 at 6:45 pm

This is such a great post. I was struggling last night and thought I just need a sign and I found this post (of course I did). I realised what I was missing was connection, that was what I was struggling with and so I made the effort to try and see the why in the dialog and to choose to be understanding and not understood. It may make no difference whatsoever but I felt happier.

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MK July 29, 2011 at 1:18 am

I’m going to say this, I DO NOT listen! ;) I think i shld give it a shot.

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Just another name in a sea of names... August 13, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Somehow I’ve always managed to surround myself with articulate, outgoing people however I am actually quite the opposite. I am very shy and am almost always more articulate in writing. My voice is naturally quiet so I would need a bit of “quiet” to actually be heard although perhaps this has to do with a lack of conviction on my part while speaking? In other words, I will not fight to have my point of view spoken because I do not care to raise my voice over others as some of my friends easily do during gatherings. They do not do this rudely, it comes naturally to them, gaily even but inevitably I am left feeling “overlooked”. I do however reel with panic when I’m finally remembered and the spotlight turns to me. :(

Recently, I went to a community dinner party. I dread dinner parties but often force myself to attend for the sake of my children. I convince myself my children will “learn” how to socialize from me and this actually has me a bit worried as I do not want my children to become shy like me.

Usually after each party I dissect each conversation (and where it went wrong) or note the lack thereof. I am almost always left feeling disappointed and even a bit sad.

At this recent party, a few people (that I knew, though not closely) who were entering the home actually passed me by to greet other people they were more acquainted with (who happened to be sitting next to me on the sofa). I found this to be rude but I didn’t let on and smiled glancing in their direction (as if to subtly say, “hi, you skipped me”!). I personally would never “not” greet a person who was sitting among a group of people. I would greet them with a smile and at least say “Hi” whether I knew them very well or not. This has happened a few times and I just don’t understand what I’ve done to be so “unlikable”.

During this particular party I really pushed myself to approach people that I’ve known for many years albeit not on a very deep personal level. I wanted to make the effort to connect with them in more meaningful ways but often I found they were not interested in what I had to say. I tried my best: I inquired about them in general (asked them what was new in their life), I inquired about their family (without being nosey), I tried to give them statements about myself in order for them to follow up should they want to learn more (ex: new job) but I very rarely had anyone to reciprocate a decent conversation with me. Some people actually spoke to me while looking around the room, as if they were searching for someone else to speak to! :( One lady actually got up in the middle of our conversation and just walked away and I don’t understand her behavior. I had made what I thought to be a harmless comment in that I didn’t know my neighbors very well because they were always changing. The lady I was speaking to just said “Oh,…” and then walked away! I waited to see if perhaps she was planning to return but she had gone over to someone else to speak to! I was left feeling very embarrassed and wondered why people do not want to converse with me.

I have average intelligence, average appearance. I don’t rattle on about non-sense during conversations, I try to listen to others and empathize with them. I’m not perfect, I try to be friendly and caring even when I feel so incredibly shy to put myself out there but in the end I feel like no one gives a damn.

I’m getting older now, my children are getting older too but I have very few people in my life that I can truly say I’ve connected with and I do not understand what the cause of this is. I’ve struggled with this my entire life (high-school, college, etc.) At this point, I feel like giving up on ever having a fulfilling social life and ever forming and maintaining, meaningful relationships.

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Mary Jane August 25, 2011 at 2:36 pm

David,

I just discovered this beautiful post, and saved it to my desktop to keep in the front of my mind. I want to become a more genuine and effective listener. Am thinking of developing this skill in terms of developing a muscle or a habit. You have given me a great reminder and a real boost. Many thanks!

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David August 25, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Thanks Mary Jane. I should read it again too :)

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Brandon October 2, 2011 at 1:11 am

Hi, I was wondering if I could get help talking in high school. I try listening but no one really talks to me to begin with because I’m new. I’d really appreciate any help you’d offer me

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David October 2, 2011 at 9:02 am

All I can say is watch how other people start conversations and do it yourself. It doesn’t take much to get some words going, but it’s always going to be easier to say nothing.

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Xavier November 19, 2011 at 5:35 pm

*To David :
Thanks for your post. I think the advice you give are very good to help “connecting” with someone. I’ve tried to apply that this week, and it worked well two thirds of the time. That is a different way of thinking, so I am sure that you need a lot of training to make it really efficient. So far my problem is this : once I have understood someone, I often just think “ok, cool!”, and the talk stops haha. I need to get fast enough and more relax in order to come up with something after I understand the other.

*To the name in the sea of names (and anyone else haha) :
I think the advice of understanding the other first often does not work during parties. A lot of people go to parties to have fun. They do not feel like expressing their deep thoughts, they just want to have a good time ! So they will get bored if you pay a lot of attention to them without bringing any interesting or fun element in the relation. However, if they do say something, then for sure you need to understand why they say that in order to be on the same “wave length”. But you often need to find an interesting/funny topic first !
You say you are shy. Maybe you could work on expressing your feelings. You could also try to joke with people. I know it is hard to do that when you are shy, because you feel blocked : no deep thougth comes up ! Maybe you could try to relax during parties, and talk about what you think is funny. If it’s funny to you, then it sure will be funny for someone else too : that’s the beginning of a connection !

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Crow91 November 23, 2011 at 8:52 pm

I’m introverted and i’m naturally a listener , i always have that bad feeling of anxiety when i talk to someone , cause i can not think of things to say right on the spot , i just try too hard to find something to say that i totally forget what the other person is trying to say , this article right here is gold , now i realized i better stick to what i’m given as a gift , and actually i found that i can get on a lot better with outgoing to extremely outgoing people , i complete them , they complete me…..

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D December 12, 2011 at 10:57 am

Wow, you really put a lot of thought into this article and Im glad to see that this knowledge was able to change your life. But to keep a long story short I just want to let you the author know that this article is in the process of changing my life as well. I have always found myself in similar situations where I dont seem to have the friendships that I desir due to a lack of emotional connection. But then I read this article and realized that it is because I am always thinking of what to say. It makes sense now. I appreciate your shared knowledge and i just want you to know that your article is making a difference in the lives of others

-Will

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Jason July 17, 2012 at 12:41 am

I listened to you renidag the poems on your blog this morning. I really enjoyed hearing your voices! I liked the poems you chose and will look forward to checking your blog again to see what else you are working on.Ms Peck

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Miguel January 17, 2012 at 8:15 pm

This sounds like you telling me to be a punk and take the back seat. What happened to pioneers, visionaries, leaders and assertive speakers? If all I have to say gives room for what someone else has to say, what happens when sense needs to be made?

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David January 17, 2012 at 8:29 pm

Nope, not telling you take the back seat, only suggesting that you do what most people never do, which is actually listen to what others are trying to say.

Listening doesn’t preclude you from being a leader or a visionary, I’m not sure why you’d think that. Pioneers aren’t people who don’t listen, they’re people who do what most people don’t.

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Tony Draxler January 17, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Hey David, kind of a long question here so I apologize in advance… I loved this post the first time I read it, and just read it again and it struck a different chord in me this time. What do you do when you constantly find yourself on the other side of the coin? What happens if you’re the person that always makes the other person the star, you’re the person who always gives and thinks of others first, and yet you don’t get anything in return? I understand the notion that fulfilling others should be fulfilling in itself, and it is, very much so; But what happens when you give and give until you find yourself empty, unappreciated, and taken for granted? How do you find the balance between what’s important for others and what’s important for you? Developing a habit of always caring for others more than anyone cares for me over the course of the last 20 years has left me feeling very sad, undervalued, and empty. I understand your time constraints obviously, but would be very eager to hear your thoughts on addressing this in a blog someday (Or perhaps you’ve covered it before and I haven’t caught it). What happens when “being good” because I believe it’s the right thing to do isn’t enough to make me FEEL good anymore? I’m worried that my compassion is turning into apathy and that scares me because that’s not who I am

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David January 17, 2012 at 9:55 pm

I wrote this post a long time ago, so I’m not sure if I said this in it or not:

If the people in your life don’t value you, it’s either because they’re not worth knowing, or because you habitually devalue yourself and teach others to. If the latter is the case, that’s an issue way outside the scope of this article.

Listening is not the same as being the passive end of a conversation. It’s not about always deferring to the other’s wishes. It’s simply making a point of actively looking for what others are trying to say. You must talk too!

Some people will always be self-centered and will never realize it. This article is about finding connection where the potential exists. Find other people to talk to.

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Tony Draxler January 17, 2012 at 10:07 pm

Wow. You know that moment when you never realized something, and then suddenly you do, and your life flashes before your eyes and you wonder why it wasn’t painfully obvious before? The latter definitely seems to ring true, and it’s something that hadn’t occurred to me until you mentioned it. I can already feel the floodgates of introspection opening up! Thanks for your insight!

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Lisa January 29, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Excellent Read. Thank you.

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Sarah January 31, 2012 at 11:53 pm

As someone who is shy by nature, I am also a listener- but I have always struggled with keeping a conversation going. It is easier when there is a purpose to the meeting, as in certain job positions, but just a meeting between friends? Bit harder. You make a lot of good points here. We want to be listened to, but at the heart of it we want to be understood- and how can one do this when they cannot understand others? The give and take becomes less of a task, and more natural and right when you really mean to connect with them.

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Marashor February 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Hello David, this is my first time visiting your blog. I agree with the following; it’s something I think about after my feelings have changed.

“Opinions will come and go, they speak mostly to our emotional state at the time we declare them. There is usually very little logic behind them, just feelings.”

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Tina March 12, 2012 at 3:21 pm

hey, they is amazing.your writing goes to show your own values and wit too, like when you say its connecting with the human that matters, the opinions don’t. and how you converge this article towards the end about it being for the greater good, and not a quick-fix way to just help you connect better with people. i like what you have written, its convincing,inspiring, and for the most part, doesn’t sound formulaic, but very beautiful

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pablo May 3, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Thank you SO MUCH for publishing this article. I am deeply grateful, for it spoke to me at a very deep level of understanding. You just made someone a little happier and potentially really happy in the future. =) You do put things very simply, and explain them like so as well.

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James May 15, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Awesome advice!
Thank you!!

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starkey hearing aid batteries May 22, 2012 at 12:11 am

Sometimes I contemplate if folks truly take time to compose something original, or are they only just dishing out words to fill a site. This certainly doesn’t fit that mold. Thank you for taking the time to write with awareness. Once In A While I look at a page and question whether they even proofread it.Fantastic work with this article.

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James May 29, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Just recently heard someone say something very simple yet profound in regard to listening to people

- Explore (as in hear what they have to say, explore THEIR world
- Explain – Be very clear what you’re saying and also respond to what they have said to you
- Encourage – Everyone needs encouragement

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Chris Jones June 28, 2012 at 10:30 pm

I have a question. How would you come to “understand” someone who is saying something that goes directly against something you believe, such as in politics or religion? Otherwise I really enjoyed the article. I need to work on that a lot in my own life. I’m just not sure it works with politics or religion.

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Dianna Bellerose July 23, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Hi, very interesting topic and often people to not care what other person’s opinion is. They feel that the way they perceive life is the best, therefore, it hard to associate or work even with people like this. No matter what you do or say, they do not care to even give thought. The best advice is to find people with similar interest and stay away from someone or crowd of people who are hard to talk to.

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Angela July 31, 2012 at 1:12 am

Thank you so much for this article. I have problems with communicating with people and I’ve noticed that I only think about myself and what I want to say. I feel so bad after the conversation because sometimes i feel like I’m racing to get my point across. I’ve been searching to learn active listening skills. I honestly do want to communicate better with people. I have to take one step at a time. Thank you again so much for this article. It was very eye opening and intriguing. I will try and make others the star… :)

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na kenno August 9, 2012 at 12:02 am

This is horrible advice when in conversation with a very controlling, loud individual who does not let anybody speak. As well, another controlling individual will interrupt with a comment that has nothing to do with the topic. The two of them understand each other. I listen. When I make a comment, they don’t listen well, and so miss understanding my meaning. It’s a frustrating scenario. Help.

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nomi August 9, 2012 at 12:08 am

Waste of time when spoken to by a controlling individual. When I start to speak after waiting (because I am a listener and need to think about what’s being said) she puts up her hand to stop me from speaking. Rude gesture, certainly but what of this? Let her keep speaking? Someone else comes into the conversation, way off track to the stream of the conversation and the conversation continues in another direction. I don’t think listening before speaking works in these situations of people who have the negative controlling personality.

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David August 13, 2012 at 9:03 pm

None of this suggests you should spend your time with rude or selfish people.

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Bill August 30, 2012 at 5:36 pm

This is one of the best I have ever had with 14-years of trying to understand peoples’ perspectives on connecting with others. Great job; keep it up.

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maxawa September 16, 2012 at 9:40 pm

I’d be really curious to know if you’d still advocate this technique after trying it for a few years now. This seems like fantastically efficacious advice… and hard as hell to pull off. I think it takes mad Zen skills to clear your mind of thoughts for 10 seconds, let alone the whole duration that someone’s talking. I get the vibe that this was written when you were excited by the discovery before you’d actually battle tested the technique. I’d love to hear that I’m wrong and this has really worked well for you.

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David September 16, 2012 at 10:02 pm

I’d been doing it for a while before I wrote this article. I don’t do it all the time, usually only when I’m in a good mood, but I don’t really see what’s so hard about it. There’s no need to clear your mind of thoughts, just to try ditching what your were going to say if you notice it’s distracting you from following the other person. You don’t need to be a zen master to do that.

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maxawa September 16, 2012 at 10:27 pm

Ah, good. Glad I misunderstood that. Thanks for the article, I’m looking forward to giving it a whirl. I’ve been choppily working on an emotional brain attentiveness while watching people’s expressions on tv, so maybe that will lend itself to understanding *why* people are saying what they’re saying.

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Breahna September 26, 2012 at 7:17 pm

This was an absolutely terrific theology on others and how to connect. It is very inspirational and something we all should acquire an interest in. Success is not measured by one individual, it is by of the other which motivates and loves and appreciates that individual to learn and grow. I think your writing is beautiful.

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Della September 29, 2012 at 10:53 am

I have one question. You truly listen to the person and really understand where they are coming from. But then what do you afterwards in response? Relay your own story that brought on similar emotions? Nod as say “how lovely” or “I understand” and then move on to something else? Ask more questions?

I have mastered listening, you give very good advice that makes sense. I get stuck on the few moments following peoples’ stories. How do you show you understand?

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David September 29, 2012 at 11:50 am

You can relate something relevant from your own life, or just say “How lovely” or whatever. Anything to show that you heard them. I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I think most people can detect when they’ve been listened to.

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Della September 29, 2012 at 11:48 pm

Thank you david for your insight! (and for listening ;) )

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chris60 October 22, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Most of us are locked in our own rigid worldviews. It keeps us safe, but can also keep us limited. This was a fascinating read. Listeners are rare. Capturing the essence of another person is difficult due to basic differences and most of us are trained to avoid exposing our more vulnerable and precious pockets. Great article. The final tip is to reflect back the listener’s feelings and check you understood what they said and meant… Sometimes you can make a mistake and assume what they said was linked to the wrong response. I remember a young Vietnamese student recounting his father’s death. i was shocked that he kept smiling. Then he explained he felt so glad that his father had died happy. Cultural differences can create big gaps in understanding.

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Anra November 16, 2012 at 4:40 am

Thank you, this sounds too exciting and too easy not to try it!

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erik rossetti January 8, 2013 at 9:14 pm

This is a great insight with a nice detailed elaboration. This is a point that is critical in How To Win Friends and Influence People by Carnegie. Are you aware of this? If so, then why no credit?

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Joanne January 30, 2013 at 9:36 am

It is the “do unto others as you would like them to do unto you”. If everyone would work at this one line, what a world this would be.

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Fred February 23, 2013 at 11:57 am

Sorry but this article takes a moral high ground, and makes a sweeping claim about people not “really listening to other people”. Come on, you can’t just claim that nobody has been connecting properly, but now you’re going to set us all straight? Lots of the time people are talking about stuff in a casual manner, and the listener also assumes a casual role in the conversation, with peaks of interest and troughs of vagueness. That’s natural.

Remember that applying an attentive listening strategy in order to fulfill the role of “better human” is in itself a sure way of raising suspicion in your speaker as to your genuine reaction, and may backfire. Basically, putting on an “act” might be detected, and that can further drive a wedge in.

I would warn anyone taking this article’s advice to be very careful. Don’t pander to people if they’re uninteresting. It’s ok to look disinterested if the person is boring for example. Conversation is not black and white, you can’t apply a formula to all situations. Be organic, trust your intuition, be genuine, be nice, but don’t pretend to be interested if you’re not. That won’t help anyone.

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nn March 1, 2013 at 10:13 am

I ageee with the comment made on Feb 23rd about being wary of this advice. There’s a fatal flaw. You say most people don’t properly listen, and in order to make a connection you need to truly listen.

If I look ar that one way it raises a question: if most people are inadequate listeners why do most people have satisfactory connections? Most people have at least one highly trusted friend who they have connected with, but apparently most people are terrible listeners which undermines that whole idea

Secondly, most peoples inteeractions and connections are not based on some high level of empathy and understanding – yes there is an amount of that but not to the extent you’re saying. You just have to observe people to see that. Is some happy go lucky young person desiring understanding from a friend or someone fun, bubbly and exciting? Is someone who has plenty od friends wanting to be understood when you listen to them? No their values with regard to what they respond to and connect to are focused elsewhere besides being understood or even accepted, it’s not the priority they are plentiful when it comes to being understood already.

You can’t make out this is a universal tactic leading to more fulfilling relationships it just isn’t that easy or simple there is FAR more things good connections are dependant on. Those od us who struggle forming them are useless at intuitively knowing or fulfilling and finding thosedependant attributes.

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Bernie April 12, 2013 at 11:54 pm

After about 5 years of not finishing, I picked up Steven Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” today. Where I had left off was Habit 5: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Covey is a genius and his book (at least the first half) was life-changing for me. I have to compliment you on the way you took his premise (not implying anything improper, just that I saw it there first), and eloquently elaborated on it in a way that makes it more relate-able. This was much more poignant for me, at least, than the examples in his book. It’s good to know a real human had excellent results with it and this is what they got out of it. Great writing.

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James April 27, 2013 at 7:19 am

I was just looking for a way to connect with people to make some money just don’t know where to start!

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Thomas May 15, 2013 at 6:23 am

Will it be annoying if I only listen and keep asking questions and not mentioning myself? Btw great article!

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Trena May 16, 2013 at 5:22 pm

For any kind of luxury item of consumption, MAD (Money, Authority
and Desire) is required. Often, long term schedules with a bit of breathing room work best.

You will need an outside antenna to get clear reception on your radio.

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JC Johnson May 20, 2013 at 8:39 am

Great post! The truth is always in the position of the observer.

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Rebecca May 24, 2013 at 9:04 am

What a fantastic article for anyone but particularly helpful to coaching others. As a topic “expert” this information is critical. It also emphasizes that what really transforms people is not the material but the human aspect. Thank you so much for this super valuable content!

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Endi September 10, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Absolutely wonderful! I loved your article. It is spot on! I was recently placed in a leadership type role, and I will be reading your article over and over again! Thank you :-)

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Paula September 22, 2013 at 4:19 am

Hi there! This post could not be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my old room mate!
He always kept talking about this. I will forward this post
to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

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Georgie D September 23, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Hey David, SUPER blog, I’m a 43 year old who suffered a closed head injury years ago, which Is the main reason I have this problem of letting people get too close to me. I haven’t been able to connect with anyone, Including wives for 15 years!
I meet someone, we talk, we part ways and I take nothing from it , not even their name. With your tips, I can’t wait to have the next conversation with someone, no, I can’t wait to “listen” to the next conversation Is what I mean.
Thanks.

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Lauren September 26, 2013 at 1:48 am

Hi David,

Great post! I’m dealing a little with anxiety and I have been given a job opportunity (first back since my last position fell through- was dealing with depression/anxiety quite profoundly with that job). Although I know this opportunity is the next ‘building block’ and will give me much strength, I am still a little anxious and have spent the last week off staying out of my head! (Hard at times!!!) I’m feeling in a much better place to take on the ‘lil challenge’ than I was when I first agreed to take the job, but now it’s tomorrow.. anxiety (thoughts) are coming up that aren’t serving me. So!, after reading this post, I will endeavour to be the listener tomorrow as I think it will be a good start to slowly put myself back in the social scene (without the thoughts whirling round’ my head)

Great post and will help a million tomorrow :)
Lauren.

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Lauren September 26, 2013 at 1:59 am

It’s a training session so I only have to listen anyway!! :p

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Wes November 4, 2013 at 11:41 pm

You changed my life forever thank you for producing this article I will now use in my everyday life and conquer what I want and I shall understand those and the world around me including my family school peers and future relationship partner this opened my mind to a new level thank you.

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adam November 6, 2013 at 1:04 pm

hi,
I loved your post. very useful.
one thing was on my mind. a lot of times, I don’t like what people say. either it seems dumb or just not my cup of tea. it’s very hard to keep listening. I want to respect people but find it difficult when I don’t much respect their mind. how can I go about that? maybe I need a change in attitude? I usually pride myself to be smarter than most. I tend to think and analyze a lot. so it’s natural for me to jump to conclusions and move forward because I’ve gone over such things many times and there are a lot more to go over, more interesting stuff. of course many people don’t get or like this pace. that is why I don’t connect with many people.

I’d appreciate your input
thanks

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Aclarar la piel para siempre ESTAFA? November 21, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Hi there! This article could not be written any better!

Reading through this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
He always kept talking about this. I most certainly will forward this
information to him. Pretty sure he’s going to have a good read.
Many thanks for sharing!

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pio January 16, 2014 at 9:00 am

Good advice, but the people I’m trying to connect with at work seem to be playing a different game. It feels more like a battle of wit, and if you can’t play, you’re not in with the group. Or another game I’ve seen is only talk about light and fluffy stuff, so nothing about them is ever revealed. How do others connect with people like these?

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David Cain January 16, 2014 at 3:51 pm

That is unfortunate. There’s no accounting for quality of the people around you as potential connectees. Some people are just plain impossible.

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deborah April 17, 2014 at 2:45 am

You know I’ve been doing this for years.. the problem is not a single person has gotten back to me yet.. not such as a wee question about me, my life..what I had for breakfast…. As it stood this was a great secret to my happiness for 20 years, as I was giving only to others…
…As it stands Now, I feel utterly empty, as I was never able to make any real connections this way. I feel isolated as If on another planet now.. peoples lips move.. I can’t ever hear what their saying anymore.
Am I just swarmed by narcissistic people around me, am I not understanding some critical thing you can think of, or am I actually an alien and I should be looking for another planet perhaps? Seriously I’m in dire need if anyone could help me in this matter…

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Lyle April 19, 2014 at 4:51 pm

The obvious thing to do if someone is talking to you is listen to what their saying weather its interesting or not.I’am good at listening to people and am quite patient.The problem comes in when the other person realizes your a good listener and then just keeps blabbing on about themselves even though
you do drop in your own opinion from time to time.When I speak to someone I want to have a fully interactive conversation about a certain topic
where I really want to hear the other persons opinion and thoughts more than my own because I already know how I feel about it.This very rarely happens because most people just talk about themselves and it becomes a battle of whose got a more interesting life or has more money which ultimately ends in someone losing. This is not restricted to unknown people but includes family and friends. I like to talk about neutral things to get an understanding of how the other person thinks before going into more personal details.I’m an educated person and at even family get-to-gethers
hardly anyone speaks to me and those who I speak to don’t seem to be interested.I like people and would love to be more socialble but it just feels like flogging a dead horse.

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deborah April 20, 2014 at 6:19 am

Thankyou in your reply for my quest to be human. I can sure can relate to feelings of “just feels like flogging a dead horse.”
I just attended a big family event.. after more of the same blah blah blah(see previous post), this was my only resolve -I face-booked this out globally:
“I’ve come to a time in my life where I don’t want to be around hurtful people anymore. People that carry false pretenses also don’t matter that much to me. I wish to spend time with only with those who truly appreciate me know me and want to be a part of my life and are REAL in their nature, I don’t have much fortitude for anything else… Anyone who wishes to be part of my life …awesome”
While rudimentary in it’s communicable depth and ability, it was truly all I could muster… and of course I got no response. Soooo. help! Hijacking the nearest mother ship is also not one my strong suits.
Thank you for replying again I’ll be really awaiting another one as I’m suspended in this vaccum.

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