Transformational Listening: The Key to Deeply Understanding Others

We have two ears and one mouth – a simple anatomical reality suggesting that we ought to listen twice as much as we talk. And yet, we frequently fall short in this area. We get distracted, interrupt, or begin formulating our responses before the speaker even finishes. With such behaviors, we’re simply hearing, not listening. Real listening, especially transformational listening, can elevate relationships, foster empathy, and promote personal and professional growth.

Transformational listening is not a mere transaction where words are exchanged; it’s an intimate dance that facilitates profound understanding and connection. It’s the kind of listening that lets the speaker know they’re seen, heard, valued and deeply understood. By embracing transformational listening, we learn more about others and ourselves, deepen relationships, and become more efficient in our interactions.

The Four Pillars of Transformational Listening:

Be a prepared listener:

It is widely understood that being a good listener involves being active, fully present, showing empathy, being non-judgmental and responding versus reacting when listening. Even with knowledge and awareness our best intentions fall short. Why? Because listening requires more than knowing what to do.  There are so many enemies of listening; distractions, our own emotions and biases, our desire to help and problem solve, just to name a few, that interfere with our ability to listen. Preparation is key… like going backpacking in the woods, you need to have the proper tools and supplies to navigate the terrain and overcome obstacles, the same is true when listening. Learning, and using  the right listening tools is the only way to ensure success. 

You are always listening to a story:

Whether listening to a loved one, colleague, stranger, when listening, you are always listening to a story.  A mini movie of that person’s life, day, experience or even a moment.  Movies and stories follow a clear path.  Simply put a beginning, middle and end.   While we are wired to listen and learn through hearing stories, few of us are naturally good storytellers that follow a clear story path when we talk. Instead, typically, the speaker starts their story somewhere in the middle, confusing and discombobulating the listener from the very start.  As the listener we assume the speaker started their story at the beginning, leading to a lot of assumptions, disconnecting the speaker and the listener, and the listener rushing the speaker to the end so they can solve the mystery. This pattern frustrates and hurts the speaker.  Be sure to go back getting the beginning of the speaker’s movie following the story path when listening.

Get both parts of the story narrative:

The story you are listening to and gathering has two important parts: The facts and feelings. Getting the facts will help you understand the situation, the feelings will help you understand the person.   Unfortunately, we are taught and socialized to focus on collecting the facts and information when listening, but not  to collect or ask about the feelings.  When we miss the feelings, we miss the person, the most important part of the story. Be sure to ask about both when listening.  Ask the speaker, how does that make you feel, or it sounds like you feel, this will lead to gathering a more cohesive story, promotes connection and finding the story meaning.

The most powerful story you can tell someone is their own.

Become a listening storyteller.  Problem solving and advising are the most commonly reported inhibitors to listening.  Instead of listening, we tend to focus on how we are going to help the speaker fix their problem. Rather than thinking of a solution, focus on listening so you can summarize in 30 to 90 seconds the story the speaker just told you. Tell their story, beginning, middle and end, including both facts and feelings when you summarize.  Telling someone their own story is one of the most powerful things we can do as a listener.  This ensures that we have not only been present when you were listening, it also illustrates you’ve heard and seen them in their story.  Telling someone their own story not only makes the person feel seen, but it also makes you unforgettable.

Be the listening Guide in the Conversation:

It is the responsibility of the listener to guide the speaker to be a great storyteller. Guide the speaker to go back to the beginning of their story and ask questions to prompt them to tell you more guiding them along the storypath. By helping the speaker follow a clear path, you will both discover the meaning and make discoveries together.

Ask less and get more:

Asking good questions is an important part of listening, however questions are also an enemy of good listening. Our specific questions, lead us to inserting our own biases and curiosity that are too often unrelated to the speaker and their story. By asking less, we allow room for the speaker to share their story without interference or getting lost. Less questions, will get more of the story more quickly. Be sure to ask both situational open-ended questions, i.e., tell me more, and feeling open ended questions, i.e., how does that make you feel.


Rather than asking for clarification, be a mirror. Take a moment to mini-reflect, using the exact words the speaker said. By providing these soundbites back to the speaker, clarification becomes a natural byproduct without creating disconnection. Using a mini reflection is the simplest way to employ mirroring, this complex and powerful emotional skill.

Empathy will happen naturally as you listen:

The ability to put ourselves in the shoes of others and feel what they feel is a daunting proposition/expectation. Put your listening mind at ease. When you listen using the tools, feelings will naturally be expressed by the speaker. As you are listening to their story/movie this will elicit you to step into their shoes and show the empathy as you are on the journey with them.

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Christine Miles

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