The Science of Listening


Becoming an Active Listener


Lesson Info

The Science of Listening

One of the reasons why active listening is really difficult for all of us is that we hear with our ears, but we listen with our brain and our brains, without turning this into a neuroscience class, which I am not qualified to do, but our brains are actually wired to-- (stammering) What's the word I'm looking for? Lost my train of thought there. They're actually wired to do the opposite of what it requires to be an active listener. Our brains want to actually interpret the information that's coming in, right? A word comes in, in the auditory cortex, actually wants to interpret those words for meaning. The other parts of your cerebral cortex want to interpret the facial lan-- The facial expression and the body language, so your brain is a big interpretation machine, right? I mean, it's interpreting things all the time. That's what we ask it to do, so what you actually have to do with active listening is try and suspend that judgment, right? Because what you're actually really trying to d...

o is be present for the person, don't bring your personal biases, don't bring your interpretive brain with you, don't bring your own point of view, but suspend all judgment and just listen to what they have to say. You do actually have to practice, and I'm saying actually a lot I've just noticed. (laughing) You do have to practice in terms of being able to shut down that part of your brain. Luckily, our brains are actually pretty easy to shut down. (giggling) Our brains operate like an on/off switch. So, if one part of the brain is working, another part of the brain is not. It's just how it conserves energy. Multi-tasking, for instance, is actually a myth. We all say we're great at multi-tasking, our brains do not multi-task. They can't do more than one, it can't do more than one thing at a time. What you're asking it to do when you're multi-tasking is to switch on and off, on and off, on and off, on and off, on and off, on and off really fast and all it does is basically tire your brain out. All of us are saying that we're great multi-taskers. We can do three things at once, we can't. We think we can and it feels like it, because our brain moves so fast, but we actually cannot multi-task. Our brain kind of fights us a little bit on active listening and that's when you really have to sit back and say, I'm here to comprehend. Therefore, what you're doing is switching on the comprehension part of your brain and not the interpretive side of your brain. A lot of information to take in, I know. So yeah, so it's job is to receive and transmit signals. Our listening brain is wired to do exactly, as we were saying, exactly what active listening is not required to do or what it discourages. We talked about this. How do you train your brain to listen? This is a great quote from an ex-CEO of IBM and he said, "I learned to listen "by having only one objective, comprehension. "I was only trying to understand "what the person was trying to convey. "I wasn't listening to critique, object, or convince. "I'm listening solely for comprehension." That's the trick, right? How do you not sit there and go, well, I don't agree with that. (laughing) My opinion is this, in your head as the person's talking. How do you just listen for comprehension and that's where this becomes such a great leadership skill and because great leaders listen, they comprehend. They make you feel that you are the only person in the room and that what you're saying is really important. There are three people that have made me feel that way. One, I was very fortunate, it was Michelle Obama. I was very fortunate to meet her. When you're in the room, there can be 500 people in the room and as far as she's concerned, you were the only person in the room. When she's talking to you, you are the only person in the room. And the second person was Geraldine Labourne, who I worked with her on the launch of Oxygen, the television network. She was the same way. Again, a thousand people in the room, you can be at a party with her and if she's talking to you, you are the only person and what you're saying is the only thing that matters. That is the true active listening. It's also sometimes called empathetic listening, where that person really feels that they are, you really feel that they are present for you. The third person is Oprah, but everybody knows she's an incredible active listener. There's actually a trick, there's a very simple trick for the hear strategy, it's called the hear strategy, to help yourself trick your brain, right? Halt, so you just stop whatever you're doing, right? First and foremost, you stop whatever you're doing. Engage, focus on the speaker, usually with your eyes, eye contact, to let them know that you're present. Anticipate, so in a sense look forward to it. Again, from a body language perspective. If you have an issue that you want me to really hear, I should be focusing with my eyes, but then engaging and making sure that my body language is saying I'm open, I'm here, I'm listening. And then reply. Think about what is being said before you-- You're not responding, you're replying. There's a big difference, right, because responding is coming from your point of view. Replying is actually trying to actually-- Is understanding what that person is saying and asking open-ended questions. It also helps you understand and recall what the other people are actually saying. A very simple strategy for the active listening, halt, engage, anticipate, replay, and reply. Yes? But, why do you do the replay if you're actively listening? Well, you wait for them to stop. Uh-huh, and then you just like in a split-second-- Yeah, so you're, what you're listening for is the most important things. You can say, so some people do it very formally and say, so if I hear you correctly, which I think just sounds very stilted, right? What you can say is, okay, so what's important to you is, and you replay what they, a summation of what they just said. Or you can just say, I think I heard you say this. Did I hear you correctly? It's just a case of trying to, when you're listening to them, synthesize down what they're saying, so that you can at least replay a little bit of it, the most important piece of it, so that they know that you're really present for them. We could also make questions. Open-ended questions are a very good thing to do, yes, for further clarification and, yep, you can-- Open-ended questions are a great way to show people that you're actively listening to them, because you're not asking a question that's coming from, again, from your judgment. You're just asking an open-ended question for more comprehension. It's a lot, it's a lot to take in and it takes a while, it takes a while to practice, but ultimately it is, if you think about it, you're using all of your communication skills. All of those get better, (giggling) right? And you're learning something that is really fundamental to any interaction with anybody. It doesn't matter whether it's a stranger in the street, a best friend, or a work colleague or a client. You all need to interact with each other and how you do that can make a huge difference to how you feel about your work and how they feel about their work. Whether they actually, whether they want to team up with you or not. It has an amazing amount of benefits.

Class Description

When we talk about good communication skills, we usually focus on how we speak—our tone, stance, confidence, and ability to effectively convey our message. But communication is a two-way street. Just as important is our ability to listen.

Listening, as opposed to simply hearing, is active not passive. Active listening requires concentrating on what’s being said, giving our full attention to the speaker and providing visual cues that we are truly understanding. Active listening is one of the most powerful skills for building deeper, more productive connections.

In the digital age, when many of us spend more time in front of a screen than face to face with others, it’s more important than ever to understand the fine art of listening.

Gaynor Strachan Chun, renowned marketer, speaker and thought leader, will address the barriers to and benefits of active listening, and help you develop a skill that will bring more trust and respect to your business and personal relationships.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Avoid being misunderstood, misconstrued and on “the ladder of inference.”
  • Overcome the barriers to being an active listener.
  • Use visual cues such as nodding and smiling to demonstrate listening.
  • Respond to your interlocutor with eye contact and nonverbal sounds.
  • Focus fully on the what’s being said and not get distracted.
  • Have the right posture to convey active listening.



Gaynor provides insight and practical tips for improving active listening skills that are valuable in both business and personal relationships. This class breaks down why active listening is important in furthering communication which leads to greater creativity and productivity. Gaynor has shown me that practicing active listening will help me empower others and make my work more impactful.


Valuable, applicable and productive course. Gaynor presents the topics so well and applies takeaways that can be put in motion immediately. Highly recommended!