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Leaders become more effective when they listen, really listen. You know your leaders have been really listening when the people they lead feel that they are being not just heard but also understood, and when they feel they will receive a fair and thoroughly considered response.

When some leaders think they are listening, they are usually evaluating what they hear, considering objections and alternatives, and preparing their response while the other person is speaking.

That’s not listening. Real listening means hearing words and understanding their meaning. Real listening engages the listener’s full attention intently on what a speaker is saying (the words) and on what they are trying to convey (the meaning).

Recently I came across the idea that the Chinese word listen is composed of characters that offer a memorable lesson on how to listen. I would like to share the most instructive interpretation I found among the various explanations of the Chinese characters comprising the collection.


The Chinese characters of the concept of ting (in the image above) are said to represent what listening trainers remind us today. That listening goes far beyond simply hearing spoken words.

The symbol in the upper left chinese ear characterrepresents the ear. It reminds us to hear, quietly, attentively, and without the background sound of internal evaluation. The image reinforces the preeminence of hearing by placing the symbol for ruler or dominance chinese ruler characterbelow the ear in the lower left.

The upper right of the collection represents the mind chinese mind eye charactersand the importance of using it to understand beyond hearing. To engage oneself with the speaker and use experience and intimate understanding of the speaker to draw out what they feel and hope to gain by communicating with their leader.

Below the mind character is the symbol of the eye, reminding you to watch for body language, gestures, and expressions that tell a deeper story and reveal the deeper meaning of the speaker’s intentions.

At the bottom, below the eye symbol are two marks chinese heart character a heart and above it, the number one.

Together they represent the promise of ting. That if you listen with your heart you will become one with your speaker.

Words, as wonderful as they are, always fall short of conveying everything someone wants another to hear. Words from the mouths of the most eloquent cannot convey all the feelings, intentions, motivations, concerns, hopes, fears, and much more that a speaker hopes to express.

To understand what a speaker hopes to express, leaders must listen not just with their ears, but with their eyes, hearts, and minds. Listening with ting will enable your leaders to engage in much deeper and more productive conversations with the people they lead.

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Helanie Scott
Helanie Scott
Helanie (pronounced yeh-LAH-nee) Scott, CEO and founder of Align4Profit in Dallas, Texas, has driven stunning leadership and cultural transformations for an impressive list of organizations. She has mastered the ability to connect with her audiences in the boardroom, classroom, on stage, or in one-on-one coaching sessions. Helanie’s Align4Profit clients rave at the way her engaging programs freshen outdated mindsets and deliver results-oriented, aligned action.