Listening – Motivation or Ability?

Posted by  Kevin Bishop —April 15, 2011
Filed in Communication, Employee Engagement

Is really listening to someone about your listening abilities, or is it about your motivation to listen? Is it about the ‘skills’ of listening or is it the desire to want to listen that makes the difference?

I have been running a series of workshops lately where we do a very simple listening exercise that gets the participants to actually feel what it is like not to be listened too. The exercise takes it from being a purely rational/logical thing (i.e. “I know that not being listened too isn’t nice“) to one where they actually feel the anger, frustration and almost diminishing sense of self worth that comes when you are not being listened too.

At the end of the exercise I do a de-brief and one of the questions I ask is; “What do you think is more important when you listen – your ability to listen, or your desire to listen?” You can see people have this light bulb moment as they realise it is not the ability side of listening that they are struggling with, it’s the motivation to want to listen in the first place.

When asked they can all tell you what you need to do to be able to listen better, from a skills perspective – mirror body language, lean forward, make eye contact, avoid distractions etc. etc. A good outline of some of these were covered in a blog Shawn did in May last year.

However, these things only become useful if you want to listen in the first place.

For me listening, really listening to someone, is an issue of motivation first and foremost. Once I want to listen to you, then my skills and abilities to listen can really kick in.

About  Kevin Bishop


  1. Amir Toister says:

    The CTI Co-Active Coaching model describes 3 levels of listening.

  2. Stuart Reid says:

    Hi Kevin – I found your point really powerful, and nicely made. Without the interest in listening the skills stuff just won’t kick in.
    I am interested in the listening exercise that you referred to at the beginning of the post. How did that work?

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