The Gifts of Listening – being heard and thinking better Part 1 – Background to listening

The Listener’s Way

The first of six on listening and being heard.


Tom Peters (Author of many books including In Search of Excellence), believes that seven out of every eight managers are 18 second managers, i.e. they interrupt on average 18 seconds after the speaker starts speaking, with comments like, “I have seen this before, the answer is, you should do….”

Tom says, “I have come to the conclusion that the single most significant strategic strength of an organisation can have is not a good strategic plan but a commitment to strategic listening on the part of every member of the organisation.  Strategic listening to front line employees, vendors, customers, etc.”

He goes on, “The number one core course on Tom’s MBA programme is going to be a two part, six month programme called Strategic Listening One and Strategic Listening Two.  The reality is that you can teach listening, you can get better at listening, there is no issue about that.  But guess what, it is like playing the piano, becoming an actor, becoming an artist, it is a profession that has to be learned.  It is my opinion as a leader or as a team member that to a significant degree your profession is listening.  So think about it, are you an 18 second Manager?  I bet you are!”

Otto Sharmer (Author of Theory U and Presence) said that, “Listening is recognised as an important leadership capability.  It is at the root of everything, without it there is no mastery.  He also proposed that there are four types of listening.  The first two are familiar, the second two and unfamiliar or less so, yet are most needed by all of us, and especially by those in a position of leading.”

  1. Downloading, listening to that which we already know, a sort of “Yep, I already know that”.
  2. Object focused or factual, focus on what differs from what we already know.  Interesting, we learn something new.
  3. Empathic, activate the open heart, capacity to connect directly to another person.  Profound shift beyond the boundaries of our mental-cognitive state.  To be able to listen as though you are in another’s shoes.
  4. Generative, to see another in terms of past, present and future possibilities, being open to all possibilities of what may come up from them.


Of the four modes of communication, listening is the mode we use most of the time, yet the one in which we are least formally trained or skilled at doing?

Mode of Communication

Formal Years of Training

Percentage of Time Used

Writing 12 years 9 %
Reading 6-8 years 16 %
Speaking 1-2 years 30 %
Listening 0 – few hours 45 %
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