Mark Craemer No Comments

At the time of this writing, the US government has been temporarily reopened after being shut down for the longest stretch in history. One reason for being closed so long is due to our elected representatives’ inability to listen effectively to each other. Leaders in politics and business who want to communicate more effectively require connective listening.

First an example of poor communication:

  • Donnie: I want a ball and if I don’t get it, you can’t open the game.
  • Nancy: We’ll talk about the ball after we open the game.
  • Donnie: No ball. No game.
  • Nancy: Game first. Then we’ll talk about the ball.

Clearly, there’s no effective listening in this exchange. Each side is firm in his and her position, which only prevents understanding and connection.

But let’s first make a distinction between listening and hearing. While hearing is the act of perceiving a sound by ear and essentially a passive activity, listening is the act of trying to understand the other person’s point of view and therefore much more active. In fact, passive listening is not listening at all.

Listening is a conscious choice that requires you have purpose in your heart and an interest in your brain. Listening requires focused attention.

In their book “Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In,” authors Mark Goulston and John Ullmen call connective listening the type all speakers crave. It is about listening with the intention to fully understand the speaker AND strengthen the connection. Connective listening is listening from their there instead of your here. It means listening without an agenda that is focused entirely on responding or helping.

To gain influence and persuade others requires that you practice connective listening because this is where you are best able to understand the other’s perspective, so they feel heard, and stay connected so they feel respected while negotiating.

Here’s an example of connective listening in communication:

  • Donnie: I want a ball and if I don’t get it, you can’t open the game.
  • Nancy: Tell me more about why you want the ball.
  • Donnie: Well, I told everyone I’d get the ball and it’s important to me.
  • Nancy: I hear you. The ball is important to you and you told people you’d get the ball. I understand and I appreciate you telling me this. Can you tell me why it’s important you get the ball before we open the game?
  • Donnie: Uh. Because I don’t think you’ll give me the ball if we open the game first.
  • Nancy: I can’t promise you will get the ball, but if we don’t open the game, no one can play. You want everyone to play, don’t you?
  • Donnie: Yeah. But I want the ball.
  • Nancy: I understand you want the ball, but everyone wants to play the game and you’re not letting anyone play. Once we open the game, everyone gets to play and then we can talk about the ball. Don’t you think this is in the best interest of everyone?

Okay, so I know this probably won’t entirely resolve the issue of the ball, but it does provide an opening for respectful dialogue to continue and end a stalemate. If one person can seek to actively listen for understanding while remaining connected, it can lead to better communication.

“The purest form of listening is to listen without memory or desire,” said psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion. “When you listen with memory, you have an old agenda. When you listen with desire, you have a new agenda that you’re going to plug into the other person.”

Though it’s hard to conceive of US politicians listening without memory or desire as long as lobbyists and special interests have such influence over them, I am hopeful that progress can be made—both in politics and business. Connective listening is key.

photo credit: verchmarco <a href=”″>Kinder spielen mit einem Fußball – Modelfiguren</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(license)</a>

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