Listening Exercises: Good idea but wrong target

In the past, I’ve taken part in listening exercises in several training sessions. The most popular exercise involves two people – one speaks for several minutes without interruption while the other, the listener, just listens saying nothing. Then they would swap roles to “return the favour.” In every instance, both people felt good and there was a noticeable impact on the speakers. Some of them got quite emotional, and there were a few tears too.

When that happened to me when I was the listener, I thought the speaker was so moved by the experience that made me a superb listener. So I thought I’d take the exercise into my own world and do the same listening.

Not once was I ever able to achieve the same effect despite many attempts, and eventually gave up. Clearly, the “rules” of listening were very different in the actual world than in a controlled environment. That was when I knew there’s something wrong here. I didn’t know what it was, but I wanted to get to the bottom of it, thinking, who knows, it might even reveal a completely different way of listening.

Reflecting on those listening exercises, I could get a little more honest with myself. The exercises really had felt somewhat artificial and contrived somehow, though I didn’t yet know why. I thought I must have felt like I had to suppress myself in order to stay quiet as the listener. Something like, “I shouldn’t be having any thoughts here.” Looking back, it felt like there was some mental effort going on.

It was at that point that I knew I did not know what listening was, because I suspected that real listening would work in any environment, in any circumstance. I set about finding out more, but I knew I had to do it all by myself. The training sessions did not provide the answer I was looking for, though they had held the promise to do so.

Sydney Banks to the Rescue

The logic of the Three Principles absolutely and totally wrecked my thinking about listening and what I thought had happened in the listening exercises. Even better and totally unexpectedly, it made me a better listener in any situation and didn’t involve learning anything about listening!

Sydney Banks provided a clue in his book, “The Missing Link” (page 85):

That quote was a gigantic head turner for me. I had thought that the less thinking I have, the more I can hear. Sydney Banks was saying something very different. That was good news for me, because I didn’t know of any other way to think about listening until I read that quote.

As I understand what Sydney Banks was saying: if it wasn’t for my thinking, I could not hear. That’s a complete and direct refutation to what I had previously understood. Another way of saying the same thing, in a simpler way – it is BECAUSE of my thinking that I can hear.

At that point, I realised having less thinking no longer made any sense. Actually, if I had less thinking, I would hear LESS! I felt a tremendous relief – I hadn’t realised that my efforts to have less thinking IS my thinking!!!

It had looked for all the world to me that better listening would come from having less thinking, but it turned out that trying to have less thinking was entirely the wrong target. Can you imagine how much effort it took looking towards the wrong target, not getting results, and not knowing why?

This is why illusions can be so deceptive. Illusions look totally real until you see how thinking works. I realised I had been doing a lot of thinking that didn’t look like thought. Because of the logic of the Three Principles, the target lost its promise, and the illusion fell apart. I was super glad to no longer have to think about that – and for good!

At last, the genuine work of understanding listening could begin because Sydney Banks’ quote gave me some real traction, rather than wheel spin. I now had a way to think about this that felt meaningful and had some common sense built-in. I knew if I were to continue exploring in this direction, there would be some delightful surprises in store for me. And that’s exactly what happened. Valda Monroe wrote this brilliant quote:

When I saw how thinking works, I saw something that went far beyond my original interest in listening. In fact, I realized in how many aspects of my life I had made my thinking the target. I found a new sense of freedom, no longer needing to do anything about my thinking.

Listening and Thinking Go Together

After these insights, I experienced something very different when having a conversation with another person. I noticed hearing things that I had never heard before. There was more intelligence, understanding, and common sense in my perception.

This was a strange and surprising experience, and I was thoroughly enjoying it! I realised I was more connected to the other person than ever before. Which was truly bizarre – because I had done nothing to connect better to the other person!!! Even more interestingly, the other person was very engaged with me, being quite honest about themselves and sharing it with me!

What’s going on here? I mean, suddenly out of nowhere, for seemingly no reason, and not because of any listening exercises, here I am having a very meaningful and intelligent conversation with someone!

I wanted to understand this completely unknown phenomenon, because it was brilliant!
The conversations I was having were so dynamic, the sort that I thought were only for the very best of humans. And here I was, totally unqualified, having these conversations!

There was another incredible difference from the listening exercises I had done. From my new understanding, when I was listening, the speaker spoke with a greater intelligence that often surprised them. And I could engage with them – because I was hearing my own wisdom and intelligence, often surprising myself. This added hugely to the spirit and dynamic of the conversation.

It wasn’t a person-to-person conversation. It was a thinker-to-thinker conversation, hanging out in a world of thought, where wisdom and intelligence live. The stars were aligned!

I had no idea that was on the table. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have “stumbled” upon this discovery, which is more like an “uncovery” really, because there’s no way I have the intelligence to have come up with it all by myself!

What’s Happening Here?

I wanted to nail down what was happening, not what to do, but how it works. As a Three Principles Paradigm consultant, I knew learning about this would go a long way towards making me a better consultant providing more value and impact for the individuals and groups I work with.

It was already apparent to me that there are people whose listening had improved without listening exercises. Even though it seems as if these exercises could be helpful, the rigorous logic of the Three Principles Paradigm points to the truth of what’s really happening. This stops us from believing that there is a connection between listening exercises and better listening. I also realised that increasing my awareness of listening during listening exercises had actually done nothing more than increase my awareness. There’s no insight happening.

I realized that this deeper kind of listening needed a new name. There’s nothing on the internet that comes close to it. The closest I’ve come up with is “paradigm-based listening” – I’ve used “Paradigm Ears” in the past. But, obviously, they are not something you can “put on.” Paradigm-based listening is already built-in, before any personal thought, or more precisely, before any outside-in thinking.

So I saw clearly, that for every outside-in that got removed because of insight, my listening got better. Thus, better listening is not the means or the target, but a by-product of a paradigm-based insight. Now I see how that works. That’s great to know.

And the best part is, knowing how the Three Principles Paradigm works and what a paradigm-based insight is, you can always look toward where you think your feelings are coming from. This is insightful territory. It means that there is always the possibility of insight, which means there’s always the possibility of better listening that includes more wisdom and intelligence than ever before. But it’s never something you can foresee ahead of time. Don’t have any expectations or imaginations of how you’ll be listening, Insight has something better for you than whatever you can personally think of, I promise!

Going back to Syd’s quote: “As you think, so you shall hear,” is not just for listening. It applies to all our senses. Sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing. For example, as you think, so shall you see…as you think, so shall you taste…

I experienced a vast increase in the richness of what I was seeing with my own eyes. I had no idea that was on offer when I started out to understand listening. Perhaps this is what Sydney Banks meant by “the world is a beautiful place to be.” My personal realities just keep on developing naturally and delightfully.

As it had become clear, better listening had nothing to do with my working on it, analysing it, doing exercises, nor effort of any kind. It all down to just one thing – insightfully seeing that feeling is coming from thought in the moment.

How could one insight do so much? Yet it makes perfect sense that the pre-existing logic of the Three Principles would have such deep impact and reach so far.