Have you ever wondered why some people pay more attention to their own ideas, while others show keener interest in people they engage?
Or have you seen new technology that improves how we listen? For example, new magnetic imaging opens windows into listening more with our brains.
My longtime close friend and former VP at the Mita Brain Center, Robyn modeled ways to listen to others in order to learn more about what each person cared about most that day. Those of us she engaged felt valued because she listened through genuine curiosity. A skilled listener prompts us all to speak up and feel heard.
Robyn unleashed amazing insights from leaders we supported in Canada, Caribbean, United Kingdom, Chile, China, Jamaica and many other places we traveled and taught. The same humility that led my friend back to university to complete a PhD at 62, would get Robyn talking enthusiastically about others who followed their call with similar passion.
Robyn’s unique listening brand came without judgment and often stuck to favorite topics raised by people she engaged. Her curiosity-building questions came without preconceived ideas about what others should or should not do, content to simply learn from hearing stories they loved to tell as much as she loved to hear their stories.
She’d often ask five questions to small children, seniors, and many in between.
1. What did you enjoy most about today?
2. When and how did you two meet?
3. What motivates you to love what you do?
4. What plans do you have for the coming week?
5. Have you ever considered …? (she’d add something related to extending what that person did and enjoyed.)
Robyn taught me to ask questions people most like to answer, as a way to hear.
R.I.P. Robyn as we each listen with our brains to hear a priceless treasure from people we encounter today. Did I just say, “listen with our brains?”
Discover below, what promotes or reduces listening – then try a few correlated tools to harness our listening skills into advantages.
1. Men listen with one side of their brain and women listen with both: According to researcher Dr. Michael Phillips, a neuroradiologist at the Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, brain scans showed that men listen to language which is located in the left brain, while women use both sides, including the right brain’s more creative capabilities. Phillips is careful to point out that the research does not conclude that women or men are better listeners – just that they differ in how they listen.
Correlated brain-powered tool: Vary communications – seek out people who differ from you – so that novelty becomes part of what we hear. New research about novelty’s power in the brain shows how original ideas offer positive experiences to those who take advantage by hearing more.
2. Technology is changing how we listen: Sound bites shift topics frequently, and brains rewire to catch brief bits of significant information, rather than remain focused for long periods on any one detail.
Correlated brain-powered tool: Sketch diagrams to link abstract ideas at boring meetings onto something we already know or do. New ideas make more sense to us when we hook complex concepts onto familiar or concrete experiences. Links and bridges enable us to hear difficult or boring information in ways that make more sense.
3. New digital imaging devices prove that listening changes the brain when its done well. Imaging such as PET, fMRI, and magnetoencephalography (MEG) generate interactive images to show the anatomy of our brains. They also show brain operations involved in listening. Listening operates from three regions of the brain that support how we listen and how we learn to listen.
Correlated brain-powered tool: Apply one insight heard and brainpower for listening increases. We also expand multiple intelligences that we may not have been aware impact listening. Looking for tools to listen with your brain to learn more?
4. Our brain identifies familiar features: By observing cortical activity when people hear words researchers are beginning to see how we categorize words we hear. The back half of the brain’s cortex is devoted to recognizing familiar patterns, such as a cat’s meow, a baby’s cry or a familiar business brand.
Correlated brain-powered tool: Ask, ask, ask! Question with two feet to draw out unique contributions, that become solutions for stubborn problems.
5. Listening takes focus: while mere hearing is automatic. Modern brain images show that when we really focus on listening, we engage areas in the prefrontal cortex. This area of our brain organizes and prioritizes what we hear, and stokes actions that as Fuster (2003) points out, prompts us to use what we hear to interact with our world. Focus helps us to create meaning by holding what we hear in our working memory, match it up with what we already know, and predict what to do with what we hear.
Correlated brain-powered tool: Listen for differences, such as gaps between genders, or differences between an ethical and non-ethical worker, or between different rhythms in background music at work. Our differences help us discover innovative directions for our day. Ensure that women’s brainpower is included at the helm where men’s too is valued – and both genders win, for instance.
6. Music or speech impacts our emotions, impact moods in ways that motivate us, and can add to focus for listening. Great music, such as baroque stimulates the brain to listen more effectively. To ensure good attention, it’s important to offer multiple ways we recognize parts of what is communicated. When print dominates a culture – listening skills can begin to fade. New social media, on the other hand, can escalate listening. New media and technologies such as ipods or even the web – have increased people’s listening capabilities, and raised its importance.
Correlated brain-powered tool: Seek advice from others we admire, and act on advice received. In so doing we are also engaging the plasticity that reshapes our brain to help us listen more accurately.
7. What connects to emotions tends to stick. Other advantages are given to many listeners when digital audio is paired with text, or when interactivity is possible, so that listening experiences link to listener preferences. Listening depends on levels of commitment and also on developing expertise and talent to hear and apply with tone often seen in innovative facilitators.
Correlated brain-powered tool: Step back from heated situations until we can tame our amygdala enough to hear the situation through another person’s perspective.
8. Awesome rewards come from listening to certain kinds of music. Researchers found that listening to music offers the same kind of pleasurable experiences as food, drugs or sex. The enjoyable act of listening – releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter connected to pleasurable rewards.
Correlated brain-powered tool: Laugh at ourselves – yet run from cynicism, that brings cortisol – so that we focus more on spreading serotonin chemicals. Serotonin and other neurotransmitters for well-being also aid listening skills.
9. Social media offers more integrated views on most topics, and that fact has altered what people come to crave in the kind of opposing views presented by radio stations such as NPR in the US or CBC in Canada.
Correlated brain-powered tool: Invite personal stories to respectfully create curiosity for multiple sides of issues. We often tend to hear only what we already believe, and so we miss dynamic neuro discoveries for improved listening.
10. Listening itself changes our brain’s hard-wiring. Each time we listen to long lectures with interest, we strengthen our preferred approach to interact with new ideas through detailed lectures.
Correlated brain-powered tool: Repeat one key nugget heard. Lack of listening creates a habit operated from the brain’s basal ganglia. Each time we listen well, we rewire brain cell connectors and reshape listening ability. Ready to reshape listening abilities stored in your brain?
What brain-powered tool in this post will help us reboot listening skills where we work or live?
Further Reading: Check out Dr. Robyn McMaster’s strategies to Reboot your Brain for Active Listening at Brain Based Biz
We sometimes wonder:
How does listening work with people who may have good ideas – but who dominate? Let’s consider: 1. the problem, 2. toss in a brain fact, and 3. try a new strategy.
- PROBLEM: The toxic workplace comes with cynics, bullies and naysayers, who dominate and vent.
- BRAIN FACT: Cynical mindsets literally block creativity, and stomp out innovation. Fewer people take risks that lead creativity. Balance and well being come from serotonin and other chemicals that increase by affirming others. Model lateral thinking and good ideas emerge from many angles.
- STRATEGY: For every issue raised as a problem – require the person who speaks to offer one solution. Then wait for others before suggesting another possibility. Dendrite brains cells for listening more, use the outside world as they take shape or grow based on what a person does. People who dominate require a safe climate to practice listening strategies, and to reshape their dendrites.
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Created by Ellen Weber, Brain Based Tasks for Growth Mindset