Guest Blog: Listening intent-ly?

What is your intention in reading this article? No, I mean specifically, what was the intent that you planned to achieve as a result of reading it? Testing me as a writer? Dipping your toe into some management advice? Checking to see if I’m going to offer something you don’t already know? Or to satisfy your curiosity as a learning professional?

The thing is, I’m not so worried about what your intent was, just that you had one before you started reading. A clear goal to achieve; something that means you can make a decision about whether the few minutes it’s going to take you to read this article was worth your investment. It’s a benchmark against which you can make a judgment. Developing the “intent-forming” habit in itself, can help you to be a more discerning leader.

Intent and Concentration

I don’t see it as my job to tell you what your intent should be, but the reason I think having one is so important, in anything you do but perhaps especially in the area of communication, is that it does wonderful things to your focus and levels of concentration. 

Let’s have a look specifically at two areas in relation to how your heightened focus would benefit your performance, in the area of effective communication with your most valuable asset: your people.

“Other focus”

I have a very clear and simple intent when working with coaching clients: I want to listen to understand. I enter each conversation with the same intent at the fore-front of my mind. I can’t possibly achieve this if my thinking is scattered and not absolutely focused on the person sitting across from me, or on the other end of the telephone call.

In order to understand the person and the situation fully, I need to listen to what is being said and what isn’t being said; what the body language, tone and pace of the person I’m working with might mean. It requires a lot of mental energy and you’ll know when you are doing it properly:

  1. Time seems to pass very quickly
  2. For long periods of the conversation you are not distracted by factors outside the meeting
  3. You are likely to be a bit mentally drained at the end of the session. The good news is that like physical fitness, you can improve your stamina in this mental skill with lots of practice.

“Me focus”

This is a trickier one to balance in great communication because it is very easy to move your concentration away from the person you are talking with, and bring your attention back to your world, rather than staying with the conversation. Your mind wanders to the next meeting you need to attend in 10 minutes; the report you need to finish writing; the customer you need to call back.

The thing is, as soon as your mind is elsewhere, most people can spot it and it negatively affects communication. If you are the manager of the person you are talking with, you might as well just put up a big sign saying “OK junior, I’ve stopped listening now!”.  The senses of the person you are talking with often seem to be heightened simply because of the difference in status, so take care. If your intention is clear, and it is to understand something about the
situation of the person you are talking with, then as soon as you get the sense you have mentally gone ‘walkabout’, you can re-assert some control over your thoughts.

There is an exception to this rule however and in coaching circles we refer to it as counter-transference. Let me share an example to explain this: if you are talking with someone and you get a sense of frustration, for example, it may well be that the sense you are feeling is a mirror of the feelings/state of the person you are talking with. They may be frustrated too.

Whilst you may be wrong about the ‘sense’ that you had, if you are truly intent on understanding, then you may choose to reflect the feelings that you had with the other person. Offer it as an observation, don’t be clumsy (or arrogant) and assume just because you sense it, it must be true. Give the person the opportunity to disagree with you too – this is especially important if you are their boss! I tend to position it like this: “I am experiencing a sense of frustration. What might the reasons for that be, do you think?”  Sometimes this is when you really find out what the person is thinking, concerned about etc.

In summary, have a clear and simple intention for all your communication. If you don’t have one, try just entering your next conversation fully intent on listening to understand what is happening, both at the level you can see and hear, and at deeper levels of communication too. Bring all your focus and concentration to it but don’t exclude using yourself as a source of potentially powerful data, that may help develop understanding even further.

Glenn Wallis 

To find out more:


We, at Microsoft, provide ‘Talking Business’ to help entrepreneurs and business owners’ succeed. We believe in your ability to innovate and in the ability of technology to help, so to support ‘Talking Business’ we have many resources available for businesses like you. We have an informative newsletterblog posts by people in the industry, and a community looking to help small business succeed. 

Follow us on twitter - @MicrosoftSB, or use the hashtag #TalkingBusiness to find out more information.


Comments (1)

  1. Bad Credit Business Loans says:

    Nice post. I was checking continuously this blog and I am impressed! Extremely helpful information particularly the last part 🙂 I care for such information a lot. I was looking for this certain information for a very long time. Thank you and best of luck.

Skip to main content