Listening needs more than ears

In this article, the first of eight looking at the attributes and values identified by the people of Ireland as being important in a good leader, Maurice Prendergast, a member of the LIFT International Modelling Team and Senior Partner at Avellana Innovation take a closer look at listening.  

All day, every day, these two strange little appendages on the side of my head monitor what is going on around me.   Traffic noise.   Phones.  Voices.  Radio, tv, birds singing, children laughing and crying, music playing.   Even while I sleep, they continue to function, ready to awake me when they detect something unusual.    I’m lucky.   I can hear; I have an incredible tool to help me manage my interactions with my world.  But like any tool, the true value of the tool is determined by how you use it, not by the good fortune of owning it.

Hearing is simply a tool, amongst others, that can help me to listen.  Simply hearing does not mean that I am listening.  Listening does not come from the ears, it comes from the heart.

LIFT has tried to listen to the people of Ireland to understand which values resonate with them most as where people in Ireland need to focus our awareness and our attention to improve the quality of how we lead and live.  This listening has directed us towards honesty, integrity, empathy, understanding, respect, accountability.  And listening itself.    Perhaps true listening is the glue to hold all the others together, the secret ingredient that makes all the others possible.

Listening is the learned skill of directing my attention, in this present moment, to a chosen focus.  It requires suspending both internal and external chatter to attend fully to that chosen focus with an open mind.   It is learning to discern and attempt to understand what is truly being said, felt, or even hidden, and giving this moment of my life fully to the task of seeing the world from another’s shoes.   It is a conscious effort to suspend planning what I want to say next, or prejudging the message or signal I think I am going to hear, and being with another with full, mindful attention.   It fuels and is fuelled by empathy.   It requires and it builds honesty and integrity.   It is the essential prerequisite of understanding and in its practice it is the essence of respect, both for others and for ourselves.  For the focus of listening can be myself also;  how much better would our world be if we all learned, for a few moments every day, to suspend the white noise of our crazy, busy lives, and truly listen to somebody else around us, and to the deepest yearnings of our own hearts?

How often do we hear our leaders, our politicians, engaged in noisy debate with no attempt at understanding each other’s view, simply scoring points and eagerly awaiting a moment to pounce with a glib soundbite?   Presidential debates that are anything but presidential.  And how often do I give ten percent of my attention to another, wishing they’d stop talking and hear my view which I cannot wait to talk about?   If I listen to myself, do I hear a faint whisper that the place to start to challenge the gross failures in society to listen, understand, respect, and lead may be in myself finding some little way, today, to listen to someone better, to listen to myself better?  Maybe that is how I can start a journey that allows me continually learn how to listen with ears, eyes, heart and soul, making my world a better place, and giving me a foundation to lead my corner of the world better with all the benefits which that will bring.


Listening is one of the eight values identified as being important to good leadership by the people of Ireland.  You can read more on the eight values here.