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The Value Of Listening With Intent

Listening with intent to understand is a learned skill. But just like any skill, there needs to be a commitment to do the work and a good reason to do it.


Decades ago I had a side gig where I was buying abandoned houses, renovating them and selling them. It went pretty well, but I was noticing at the closings that the buyers who were usually first time purchasers were getting whacked on fees from their mortgage companies.


While it didn't directly affect me, it did get me wondering if there was a way to help these people who were losing money they didn't need to lose if they just knew what questions to ask.


So I looked into starting my own business that would help these folks. As my personality is the very cautious type, I did plenty of research. Probably more than was needed. In speaking to people with experience in what I was trying to do, the answer I received most of the time was to forget the whole thing because I didn't have what it would take to make it in this proposed idea. I was too quiet, too reserved, and besides that, it "wasn't really stealing" from these people to take more of their money if they weren't smart enough to do the proper diligence.


After pushing through the doubt, I heard about an older guy who had already done what I was trying to do. He was known to be completely honest, even to the point where he turned down potential business because he knew it would not be in the best interests of his client to go forward. That was what I was looking for and was the model of integrity I wanted to create.


Seek The Advice Of Experts


This man did agree to listen to me. He listened with the intent to hear and understand. When I finished my pitch, he asked a few questions about my background. I noticed he always kept his full attention on me when I was talking to him.


Finally he told me a sort of good news/ bad news response. He said I was not the first person to ask about his way of doing business. So far no one had agreed to his conditions and they all went away, never to contact him again. That was the bad news part.


The good news was that he would help and it would be at no cost from me to him. But it would require a cost from me. He said I had to learn leadership skills and it had to be learned from the experts. He told me I would need to build a team that could see and follow the vision I had and that it wouldn't be easy to follow. The temptation to cut corners would always be available.


He told me I needed to learn how to share the vision with people who wanted to be part of something that was driven to make a positive difference. I would need to learn how to teach the specific parts of our business, but that would be easy. Getting them to understand why we chose this more difficult, less profitable path would require skills I needed to learn.


I was also advised that I needed to become a great listener. I would be meeting people, new people, which was not in my comfort zone back then, and these new people would be dealing with life issues that included pain and disappointment.


He gave me the resources that could teach me these things. He didn't give me the money to pay for them. That was on me to figure out. I know now that he was testing my resolve. He wanted to see if I was really in it for what I said or just blowing smoke. When I learned about leadership and about listening with intent, he showed me the particular skills to make the plan work. And it did work. It was all worth it.


And now I see where all of that prepared me for this season in my life as the advisor to our student-led Pewamo Protect Life team. Maybe it was Divine Intervention. You might not believe in that stuff. I do. Maybe it was just fortuitous and coincidental? I know this. Those things have made a huge difference in this current role. My personality is still about the same. But it doesn't matter because getting front of new people is part of this job, so while I don't have to comfortable there, I still have to do it.


In this page, I'll give you some benefits of becoming an effective listener. It is so important in building teams and in this contentious world of defending all life. I'll also give you some effective ways to become a listener with the intent to understand first, then be understood. Thank you Stephen Covey, who was one of those resources mentioned above, along with John Maxwell.


The Value Of Listening With Intent


There are a handful of values that will come from an honest effort to listen thoughtfully and try to understand. "Honest" is the operative word. People will see through a sham act at paying attention. "People don't care what you know until they know that you care." Thank you Zig Ziglar. Being kind of standoffish does pay off sometimes. I hung around after the crowd left one day and got ten minutes of one-on-one time with Zig Ziglar. He is not only wise but absolutely humble.


*Trust is built when we listen with the intent to hear and understand. Trust is important when building that initial team, and when we speak to people who are certain our viewpoint on life is way off base. Our first goal is to build trust of some kind and letting them speak is a good first step.


* Getting to the real issue or solving a conflict is another benefit of listening with intent. If it involves a team, listening will help us gauge whether we have a big problem to address right now or maybe just a personality clash that can be resolved with some patience and time. In the pro-life world, listening for the real issue gives us a chance to offer a better solution. Maybe someone has had a bad personal experience and is transferring anger to every situation.


* Remember Zig Ziglar's humility. Being humble allows us to let people have their say without the need to interrupt or one up them. Maybe we don't know as much as we think we do and maybe we can learn something new by just listening with intent to hear and understand.


* Better listening habits develops new leaders. That starts with the person in the mirror. We want our team to take leadership roles and grow our effectiveness. That means modeling leadership so they can follow the lead. If we listen to them with intent, our next generation of leaders will do the same and probably better.


* When we listen with intent, we don't miss important points. If we are learning from an expert, we want to pass on what we learn with accuracy and enthusiasm. If we are zoning out a little, we might miss something that could help us when we are in front of other people. That could mean bringing in new team members. It could mean saving a life. That's worth learning to listen with intent.


Easy Steps To Becoming An Effective Listener


These steps aren't difficult. They take some commitment, they require some genuine humility, and some practice. Just like any good thing.


* This one isn't the most technically vital step, but is the most overlooked, so let's get it out there right away. Don't interrupt. Cutting someone off also cuts off any trust you might have established. It suggests we really don't care what the other person is saying. When someone interrupts the person in front of them it shows they have already decided that person is wrong. It also indicates an arrogance and lack of belief in the interrupter's opinion. He doesn't want to discuss the subject. He wants to head off answering any tough questions. We see that every day in the pro life world of defending life.


* This should be the most obvious step. Give the person speaking your complete attention. Ignore any distraction short of a full blown emergency. That means looking him in the eye and letting him know you want to hear his viewpoint and want to understand why he is feeling the way he feels about his topic. In the pro-life world, just letting someone have their say and then following the next step can change hearts and then minds.


* Be present in the moment. Clear away anything from your mind that is outside what the person in front of you is saying. Maybe that means a few quiet moments with yourself before listening to her. When she finishes, ask her some clarifying questions. Not to trap her in her words. But rather, to let her know you didn't just hear her, you listened with the intent to hear her and understand her. We've seen it happen where someone will give an emotional opinion and when we ask them some clarifying questions, they kind of rethink things when they hear themselves say it again.


That is where humility comes back in and we thank them for their obvious passion about caring for people. We aren't taking a victory lap. We're acknowledging that our differences aren't all that many and our similarities are more than we thought.


* This one takes a little practice. For me, it took lots of practice. Pay attention to body language. That will tell you in advance if the other person is rigidly locked into a position or may be open to another option. Are their arms crossed and are they leaning back in their chair? That often means they are geared for a fight. Chances are good they will be the ones to cut you off at every turn. Sometimes the best course is to just shut it down. This might be one of those times.


Are their hands folded or maybe they are leaning forward as they speak to you? This is often a good sign. They might be just as convinced of the "rightness" of their position as the previous example, but their body language suggests they are probably more likely to let you give your side.


All of this is really about the end goal. It isn't a competition. It's more important to do right than to be right. People who are hurting need help. They need to be heard and they need a compassionate voice to tell them we understand and want to help.


Listen with the intent to hear and understand and you will know how you can help.


Ralph Willemin

Advisor to the Pewamo Protect Life Team

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