Lesson of the Week

A good listener: I am attentive and actively make efforts to understand others

This bowl illustrates wabi sabi – imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.  Being a good listener includes wabi sabi:  communication that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.  
Why?  Because speaking and listening are dependent on a code:  language, culture, family style, developmental level, personality, intention and a myriad or host of other variables.  The speaker speaks in a code and the listener must then de-code the message.  In order to accurately listen, the listener must understand both his/her own codes and the code of the speaker.  Here are some examples of what might be said and the possible meta communications of what is meant:

Example one:  A two year old says, “I’m cold.”  The code is English and factual.  However, the decoding reveals a variety of meanings.  You might decode one of the following:
a) The child needs a jacket because he is physically cold.
b) The child is sick.
c) The child is saying anything to get attention and isn’t cold.
d) The child heard someone say they were cold and is parroting them, but isn’t cold.
e) The child accidentally says cold instead of hot.

Example two:  You are trying to sway a legislator to vote in favor of a bill.  The politician says, “Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.”  You might decode one of the following:
a) He is late for lunch and will get back to you.
b) He is trying to get rid of you and has no intention of voting for the bill.
c) He likes you and wants a date, so he’s trying to set up another date to talk to you.  He may or may not care about talking to you about the bill.

Example three:  Your coworker says, “I’m interested in your project.  Tell me more.”  You might decode one of the following:
a) She is genuinely interested in supporting you and your work.
b) She is getting information to copy your project and get the credit for it before you do.
c) She’s trying to distract you while her graduate student escapes through a rear door.  They’ve been cuddling in the conference room and doing it behind your back during work hours.

To be a good listener, you crack the code of the message sender.  Like the wabi sabi bowl pictured, communication will be imperfect, but you can achieve optimum success if you are attentive and actively make efforts to understand.

Active listening is repeating what is heard, asking questions, accepting but not necessarily agreeing with what is said.  Active listening means constantly monitoring the communication for possible “meta communications” or underlying meanings.  Anne Sexton wrote, “Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.”  Two other philosophers gave a hint:
Epictetus:  We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
Diogenes:  We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.

Be still and silent.  Listen on your mission.  Understand what is being said and you will know what is that good and right next step that will make your mission successful.


A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while, he knows something.

- Wilson Mizner, American playwright


Activity:  What Did You Hear?

Materials:  Paper and pen or pencil

Time:  Ten minutes to record and write and ten minutes per person to discuss.


1.  Ask yourself this question:  What was one of the best days of my life and why?  Write down three essential points that you want to communicate about this best day and why.

Best day:

Three essential points why this was a best day:




2.  Choose partners and work in pairs.  One partner will be the storyteller and the other the listener.   Then the roles will be reversed.

3.  The storyteller tells the listener one of the best days of his/her life and why and includes the three essential points within the story.    The listener does not speak or ask questions.  The storyteller does not show the listener the notes.

4.  Now the roles are reversed.  The listener becomes the storyteller and the storyteller is the listener.  The storyteller can use the notes but does not show them to the listener.

5.  After both stories have been told, the partners try to write down what they think are the essential points that the storyteller was communicating about a best day of his/her life and why.

6.  Now compare notes between what the storyteller wanted to be heard and what the listener heard.

a)  How many of the three essential points were heard?

b)  What other points did the listener hear but the storyteller did not list as essential?

7.  What helped you hear the three essential points and be able to repeat them back?

8.  What hindered you from hearing the three essential points and repeating them back?

9.  What may have accounted for differences in what the storyteller wanted to communicate and what was heard?

10.  What is a mission you are working on and how can being a good listener help you better accomplish this mission?



I am a good listener so I can …… We’d like to hear your story about being attentive and actively making efforts to understand others. Write your story below.