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Getting the message: The art of being a good listener

‘Coach Kriengsak, I want to be a better listener,” Raj tells me. “Last week, the CFO told me that my team was really frustrated with me. They said that I just wasn’t understanding them.

“First, I was upset. They should have told me directly. But after some reflection, I realised that they probably didn’t because they were afraid I wouldn’t listen to them. This was a real wake-up call for me.”

“That’s great, Khun Raj. It takes a lot to admit that,” I tell him. “You’re clearly motivated, so I want to show you a clip from YouTube: ‘Thich Nhat Hanh on Compassionate Listening’. It’s a four-minute interview by Oprah Winfrey of the great Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk. I want you to listen to it and tell me what the key messages are.”

I show the clip to him on my iPad. Once he’s finished watching, I ask, “What did you learn?”

“We have to listen with compassion.”

“What else?”

“Sorry Coach, I can’t remember much more. That’s my bad listening, I guess.”

“Khun Raj, I want you to do some exercises now to really practise listening. It will take about 30 minutes. I want you to transcribe this clip into words. This will force you to listen to the content several times. I’ll wait in the other room. Once you’ve finished, please call me.”

After 30 minutes, he presents me with the following script of “Deep Listening”:

Oprah (O): You refer to, I can’t remember which book, that you talk about deep listening.

Thich (T): Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of the other person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose, to help him or her to empty his heart. And if you remember that you are helping him or her to suffer less, and then even if he says things full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion.

Because you know that by listening like that with compassion, you give him or her a chance to suffer less. If you want to help him or her to correct his perception, then you wait for another time.

But for the time being, you just listen with compassion and help him or her to suffer less. And one hour like that can bring transformation and healing.

O (Summarising): So I love this idea of deep listening because oftentimes when someone comes to you and they want to really vent, they want to purge whatever is going on inside them, people start talking and giving advice. So if you allow the person to just let whatever those feelings are to come out and then at another time come back to them with your advice or your comments, you experience a deeper healing. That’s what you’re saying.

T: Yes. The fear, the anger and the despair is born on the ground of wrong perception. We have wrong perceptions concerning ourselves and the other person. And that is the foundation for conflict and war and violence.

O: You said that the only way we can begin to end wars is communication between people.

T: Yes, and we should be able to say it like this: “Dear friends, dear people, I know that you suffer a lot. I have not understood enough of your difficulties and suffering. It’s not our intention to make you suffer more. It is the opposite. So please tell us about your suffering, your difficulties. I’m eager to learn to understand.”

It has to start like that, loving speech. And if you are honest, if you are true, they will open their hearts and tell us. And then we practise compassionate, deep listening. And during the process of deep listening, we can learn so much about our own perceptions, and their perceptions. And that is the best way, the only way, to remove terrorism.

O (Summarising): Terrorism or even difficulties between yourself and family members or friends and the principle is the same, no matter what the conflict? Terrorists, anti-terrorist, father and son, yourself and your boss, yourself and your children, your best friend?

“Khun Raj, what did you learn?”

“Great listeners’ behaviours are: maintaining eye contact; using interjections, even a simple ‘uh-huh’, to acknowledge the speaker; nodding your head, and summarising what you heard.”

“Which one do you want to improve?”

“Summarising. Because, when I know that I have to summarise the key message back to the speaker, I have to pay attention.”

“That’s a good place to end our session, Raj.”

Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under the brand TheCoach. He can be reached at Daily inspirational quotations can be found on his Facebook fan page: Previous articles are archived at