How Are You Listening?

By Ana Lepri

There is a humorous 1-1/2 minute video called Masi, Me Tiro which is winning awards around the world. It has inspired me to reflect on how we listen to others. The characters demonstrate that our listening is often filtered through our personal judgments and preconceptions of others. This filtering limits our ability to listen. We find ourselves reacting to what’s being said and to who we think they are based on our history and their identity (or appearance). We are prisoners of our stories about them. We are not really listening to what the other person is saying.

In the video, the two men are trapped inside their own circular conversations, unable to hear or validate the other person except inside the interpretation they have of them. They react to each other without listening.

I find myself often caught up in reactive conversations. This is how we normaily interact in our daily lives in society. I realize that every time I experience the type of stress response these two men demonstrate that I can change my experience of what’s happening and the other person by changing my listening. I can re-engage with them and listen, not from my judgments, but from a place of acceptance and validation.

As Humberto Maturana, the Chilean biologist and author, says: "The acceptance of others as a legitimate other is a prerequisite of language.” If we do not accept the other person as a legitimate other, our listening will always limit and obstruct our communication. The good news is that if we commit ourselves to listen actively, without preconceptions and judgments, we can become effective listeners. 

Listening actively to the other person is a commitment, a commitment that legitimizes the other and allows for effective communication and creativity. Listening validates the talker, not the listener. Listening is the key factor in communication. Peter Drucker said: "Too many executives think they are wonderful with people because they speak well and do not realize to be wonderful with people means to listen well."

The actual value in a conversation is only discovered when preceded by our commitment to listen for the possibility the other person is. We can relate better to others in conversation when we focus on these key question:

  • What am I learning here?
  • What new possibilities can we open up if I am committed to listening for possibility?
  • What new worlds could we then create?

Conversation, like art, always evokes and provokes us to look for possibility.

View Masi Me Tiro on YouTube.