Becoming an Active Listener

Lesson 5/7 - What We Can Learn From Artists


Becoming an Active Listener


Lesson Info

What We Can Learn From Artists

So let's move on to something a little bit more positive than barriers. What can we learn from artists? There's a lot of creative people here, there's a lot of the creative people watching the livestream, and a lot of you are artists. And artists are typically better listeners than people that are not artists, because you have to be, right. You're either, you are listening, that's where you're out in the world more, typically, because that's where you get your inspiration from. So you're not as desk-bound, and you know, a lot of great artists will talk constantly about the need for active listening. And there was this great interview with Alan Rickman, the great British actor who passed away, unfortunately, last year, and you probably know him from Harry Potter. (laughing) But he's done, he's an amazing, was an amazing stage actor. And he has this great BBC America interview about the power of listening, and it's on the resource list that comes with the class. But his quote was this, w...

hich I think was great. "The camera loves you if you can demonstrate your thinking and listening." Going back to words, right, words are, what were they, 7%? If you only speak if you wish to respond, "You only speak if you wish to respond to something you have heard. The basic engine is how accurate is your listening." He's talking about acting. "How alive you are for your fellow actors, and then how accurate and bold is your response." So there he talks about accuracy of response. He talks about kind of only speaking if you actually have something to say. And for me, the most interesting part here is, you think of actors, and you think that their, their basic engine is words, but actually their basic engine is not words, their basic engine is listening. And he goes on in this interview to talk about how you're listening to the audience as well. Obviously he's talking here about stage acting. But you're having to listen to your audience as well as listen to your other actors. It's not just about standing there and thinking about what's my next line. Which in a way, goes back to what we were saying about barriers. What are we going to say? You know, you're actually thinking, and he talks about how if you don't think about what you're going to say, then the lines actually flow much better, they're much more natural, and that's when you get that true chemistry between actors. So I think that's a really interesting example of how you think of actors as word people, but actually what they're doing is really, it is about the listening. Listening to the audience, watching the audience's facial expressions, body language, and reacting to that. And maybe kind of like, you know, playing up a little bit more of whatever the character's trying to do. And then there was another interesting piece I found from this gentleman Craig Wallace, who is actually an acting teacher. And I think he really sums up some of what we've been trying to say kind of earlier. "Listening shows who you really are." Because it really is about, you are putting yourself forward as being a person that respects somebody else. That is not going to jump in and just pound your opinion, who's actually going to listen. So it really is a way of showing people who you are, and how you will treat other people. "The moments of pure unaffected listening have the potential to break you apart from all others." Going back to what we were saying about presence, you know there are a few people that have that amazing gift, right, and I think that's really what he's talking about here. And we talk a lot about actors and their stage presence, and that's because they're totally there in the moment. Right, they have nothing else in their heads, trust me. Those boxes have been locked and closed, right. Closed and locked, and that's really the power of active listening, right, is that presence, where they are just there in the moment, and as we said with our to-do lists, and with our distractions, and everything else that we're doing, it's very rare that we're in the moment, and if we can get to that point, then we really are an active listener. Our social intelligence skills go through the roof. We'll have much better relationships. "Listening calms and connects you." Because listening means you're not talking, you're not thinking about anything else. You're just, you're focusing. It's almost a little meditative in a way. "It allows you to live in the peace." So there, that's presence, live in the moment. Be in the moment, and "The wordless moments are the moments are the most compelling." So you're not talking, you have shut up, right. And if you think too, in great movies, great plays, great television shows, the silences are actually more powerful. They actually tell you more, you know. You get more out of silences sometimes than the words. So I thought those were some really, yes Jane, sorry. I'm curious what Rickman means by bold response. Oh yes, let's go back to that for a second. "How accurate and bold is your response." What do you think he might mean by that? I guess bold would mean that you were really listening, so you probably honed into something that the person might not have ever felt heard about that one little unique piece, I don't know. Absolutely, I think that's a really great point that you make. I think that is what he means is, that you're picking up on something, and then kind of really, really being demonstrative about what you've heard. I think it's also, I think the interesting thing here is, "How accurate and bold is your response." People think, well stage actors, how can they do that, they do eight performances a week, and they're saying the same things over and over again. What he's saying is, you're not saying the same things over again, because you're reacting, and you're there for your actors, your fellow actors, so the words come out differently, the stage set is different, the audience is different, and you're changing everything based on that listening. But yeah, the boldness is an interesting, it's a very interesting interview. It's fairly short, but it's an interesting interview. The other artists that are great listeners are musicians, 'cause they're required to be silent, right. They can't talk while they're playing. They have to listen to each other, and they have to listen to their instruments. They have to come together as one, right, if you think about an orchestra. So everything that they're doing is about listening. And I thought this was fantastic. I'd never thought about, I never ever thought about that before, that "listen" contains the same letters as the word "silent". 'Cause that's what you have to be. Silent from an aural perspective, and silent from your brain perspective to be really listening. And it's a good thing, it's an easy thing to remember, and we like easy things to remember, listen, silent. And then, "There is no such thing as an empty space." And that really, really, we know that from music. There really is no, or acting, there is no such thing as an empty space, there is often more going on in the empty space than there actually is when people are talking. And I think that really, again, points back to the importance of facial expressions and body language, and I know I keep harping on that, but it's the thing that we pay attention least to. We're used to listening to words, and we're not, we don't pay as much attention to people's faces or body language. You can always learn from artists. Presence, so we have talked about this a lot, but I think, again, the art of listening. It is an art, it does require our social and emotional intelligence. It is what people would call a soft skill, which I never understood, because I always thought those were the most important skills. But it is about, there is an art to it, and it takes, like any art, to master the craft it takes time and patience, and you have to kind of piece it together over time. So, but if you think about the mindset of a music fan when they're actually listening to their music, they block out all outside noise, and this is just one example, right, all outside noise, and focus solely on what they're listening to, they're 100% present. So presence, presence, presence. And it's difficult to maintain presence. We can start there, but then staying there is difficult.

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!