Listen with Our Brains?

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Have you ever wondered what makes some pay attention to their own messages more, while others pay interest and attention to people they engage?

Or have you encountered technology that changes how you listen? New magnetic imaging opens windows into listening more with your brain.

My best friend and former vice president 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 richer because she listened through genuine curiosity that prompted us to speak up and feel heard.

Robyn’s heard from amazing leaders she then helped and supported in Canada, Caribbean, United Kingdom, Chile, China, Jamaica and many other places we traveled and taught. The same humility that led her 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 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 your 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 youso that novelty becomes part of what you 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 people 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 you already know or do. New ideas make more sense to you when you hook complex concepts onto familiar or concrete experiences. Links and bridges let you 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 the brain. 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.  You also expand multiple intelligences that you may not have been aware impact listening. Looking for tools to listen with your brain to learn more! listen-sero

4. Your brain identifies familiar features: By observing cortical activity when people hear words researchers are beginning to see how people categorize words they 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 you really focus on listening, you engage areas in the prefrontal cortex.  This area of your brain organizes and prioritizes what you hear, and stokes actions that as Fuster (2003) points out, allows you to use what you hear to interact with the world. Focus helps you to create meaning by holding what you hear in your working memory, match it up with what you already know, and predict what to do with what you 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. Let differences help you discover innovative directions for your day. Ensure that women’s brainpower is included at the helm where men’s too is valued – and both genders win.

6. Music or speech impacts your emotions, impact moods in ways that motivate people, 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 for people to recognize parts of what is communicated. When print dominates a culture – listening skills can begin to  fade. With new social media, emphasis however, has escalated.  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 you admire, and act on advice received. In so doing you are also engaging the plasticity that reshapes your brain to help you 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 you can tame your 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 yourself – yet run from cynicism, that brings cortisol – so that you 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 your brain’s hardwiring. Each time to listen to long lectures with interest, you strengthen your 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 you listen well, you rewire brain cell connectors and reshape listening ability.  Ready to reshape listening abilities stored in your brain?

What brain-powered tool will you use to reboot listening skills where you work or live?


Further Reading: Check out Dr. Robyn McMaster’s strategies to Reboot your Brain for Active Listening at Brain Based Biz

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Created by Ellen Weber, Brain Based Tasks for Growth Mindset

5 thoughts on “Listen with Our Brains?

  1. Pingback: 15 Million Jobs for Innovation Era – Brain Leaders and Learners

  2. eweber Post author

    I plan to try the rusty clubs out today – when the temp climbs to barely 50:-) With a few extra sweaters and a little luck I plan to gain a new prespective on the fun of fitness:-) Wish me luck and let’s plan a round if we cross cities:-) We golf with the brain in mind – and it’s a blast! You’d add a ton of fun to the mix:-) Have a great day Gavin:-)

  3. Gavin Heaton

    Yeah – golf and I have a love-hate relationship. Though 10 years ago I never imagined myself playing golf, these days it’s a nice way to spend an afternoon when I have the time!

  4. eweber Post author

    Hey Gavin, It’s all about having fun on the links – and the rest follows 🙂 Today I received my golf membership for the season as an amazing gift – and by next week I plan to be listening to birds sail with my 2011 golf balls! Fitness fades into the fun! You?

  5. Gavin Heaton

    Love it! We need to rewire ourselves to listen properly and not suffer from basal ganglia. It’s like exercise for the brain. Now if only I could think about losing weight and getting fit 😉

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