The Art of Centred Listening (Part One)

The difficulty all human beings face is when listening we are often split and we find it difficult to listen to the whole situation. Here’s what I mean

  • Have you ever found yourself in the middle of your own internal dialogue when the other person is speaking?

Worry not! Everyone has because of what we know about the structure of our brain and its tendency to form habits that take us away from Centred Listening – Listening to the whole of the situation.

  • Have you ever noticed yourself looking momentarily over the shoulder of the person you’re listening to because your attention has got caught elsewhere?

Whole Centred Listening

To listen to the whole of a situation it means we have to use our whole system and for this we need more than our brain.

If we rely solely on brain power we are unlikely to fully listen because it is dealing with far too much information. Estimations vary but it seems our brain is dealing with around 100 million bits of information every second; it has its work cut out.

Listening From Personality

This is a term used by Wendy Palmer who suggests one way of listening is influenced by some of our psychological patterns and our need to control; feel approval and safety.

An obvious example is how easily personality takes things personally; especially when it’s feedback that is different to our self perception.

Classic examples of this can be found in personal relationships at home and at work when business owners and leaders aren’t truly open to their staff’s different views.

For example, despite their self perception, leaders can believe they openly listen and yet they have staffs that are fearful of revealing their real beliefs and feelings.  They know from experience they’re leaders will take it personally or reject some of the feedback, rail-road-through with their own ideas or find it difficult to listen to the whole. Probably by falling into justification rather than listening.

Personality based listening is often distorted by a minefield of

  • Motivations
  • Perceptions
  • Beliefs
  • Emotions
  • Past history
  • Justification
  • Point scoring

These cognitive elements help to contract the listening rather than expand it.

The brain by its design has deep motives, which motivate the way it tends to listen – Unless we learn to catch out the motives that block listening our listening won’t improve.

E.g. listening to new data can ignite motives such as our need for mastery and control and it can also ignite reactions such as, ‘what you’re saying doesn’t fit in with what I already believe to be true’.

This is a danger I see happening everywhere. Whenever I am training trainers, I ask them to catch themselves doing this as I explore new material with them and new ways of operating as a trainer. Because if we are always comparing new concepts with what we already know and are comfortable with, we are less likely to create expansive outcomes or be open to new possibilities.

More Than Active Listening

Active listening is a style of attentiveness that’s been around for a while now and there are some occasions demonstrating we are listening, through techniques like paraphrasing can help a situation.

When we look deeper into this style we can see it’s sometimes driven by our own hidden need to make a connection that we want or that makes us feel comfortable.

It points to the inner control patterns beneath our surface; rather than fully listening to the total expanse of the sharing.

For instance, active listening certainly doesn’t help us when we find ourselves in a position when the other person doesn’t want even a sound from us and only wants our total, uninterrupted attention. No nods, no gestures to prove that we fully understand.

Centred Listening

Centred listening is multidimensional and incorporates the following

  • Inviting the whole of what is being said and including what’s not being said
  • A field of open, curiosity is created within the space for all parties
  • It’s not invested in getting a particular result. E.g. Not trying to get to a result/outcome; a feeling (‘better’ for instance) or trading justifications
  • Is an exchange, without the need for something in return
  • It can tolerate not knowing and not understanding 

Putting This into Action

At the beginning I suggested that we need to listen with something more than our brain and the personality led patterns we’ve got used to using.

Centred Listening adopts the use of our entire operating system – which when you think about it –makes sense because why would we only use a part of our operating system.

Our entire operating system means using our body as well as our brain – An integrated approach which we will discuss more specifically in the next blog in this series on listening.

Until Next Time

I recommend the following awareness practice

  • Catch yourself when you are just listening from your personality
  • Create an intention to be more curious and drop trying to get to a result of some kind
  • When listening try consciously breathing from your belly rather than your chest and see how this may have an effect!  To achieve this place a light awareness on your belly breathing in and out as you listen

If you would like more discussion or no obligation advice on listening, centering and improving old models such as active listening drop me a line at

Alternatively, sign up for our newsletter and weekly blog alerts and receive them straight into your in-box.






Sign up to our blog

We'll deliver our latest blog posts straight to your inbox every other Monday, and you'll also get our 15 Essential Ingredients for Success PDF download.

cover of 15 Essential Ingredients for Success cover

* = required field


Popular Posts

Follow us on LinkedIn