The subtle art of listening (and why you need this in your life)

Alex Mathers


Take a moment when you can to observe people in discussion.

Maybe you’re in a coffee shop or eavesdropping on a couple at a restaurant. Are they really listening? Like really, really listening to one another?

In most cases, we find people who, at best, respond to the surface level of what was said.

Often, people are just waiting their turn to speak having spent the last few seconds thinking of something clever or witty to say next.

It’s as if most discussions are floating around on the surface level, while all the mysteries of the deep are left untouched and pristine beneath.

But you can see this as a good thing. Why? Because it allows so many of us to stand out and to allow our conversations to move in fresh and unique directions.

It gives you the chance to connect more deeply with another human, which is an alien experience for many.

We live such predominantly fake lives because so many of us are scared of one another and what others might think. And so we skip all the juicy stuff.

We pass over the opportunity to connect deeply in a way that is nourishing for the soul.

I’ve been very lucky through my work as a consultant and coach over the last several years. It’s introduced me to a new experience of interacting with people.

It’s rewarding work because I get to facilitate a two-way flow that most people rarely experience.

I hold space and try not to interrupt. Beyond demonstrating respectful listening, this means setting boundaries for what can be shared. I make reassurances that conversations are kept private, for example.

I allow time to pass in silence while ideas are properly processed. My coaching sessions aren’t talk-sparring matches like most conversations or ‘chats’ are these days.

I have trained myself to listen deeply to what people are saying, even beyond the words and between the lines. My calls are done via video but, even so, I am able to garner additional information beyond the verbal from people in how they move and their facial expressions. All these extra social cues are part of good listening.