Beyond active to perceptive listening.

As a consequence of my engagement with a business coach, I have joined a Business Book Club. To begin with I wondered why someone as time poor as me would even consider this, but I have to admit that I have read some absolutely fantastic books that I would never otherwise have picked up, and I have learned so much relevant to my business, but also to me personally and regarding my work.


The book for this month is called “Duct Tape Selling” by John Jantsch, and I have been so amazed by various sections in this book, that I feel compelled to share!


As a lawyer and mediator I am well aware that communication and people skills are central to everything I do. I have engaged in many courses in negotiation, mediation, interviewing and similar, and assumed that there would be little I could learn from the business world on this topic. How wrong could I be!! It seems obvious in hindsight, that communication is also fundamental to selling, managing or being an entrepreneur.


John Jantsch begins his book with the notion of Perceptive Listening. He says that we all have the ability to hear and interpret what we are hearing, but that over time we have become so unconsciously competent at hearing, that we have stopped listening. He proposes that we take back the ability to listen, and that we develop additional skills to go beyond active listening to what he calls perceptive listening. This will enable us to more fully and accurately appreciate what our clients need and therefore how best we can assist them.


Perceptive listening requires that you are totally focused, completely mindful, and perceptive of not only what is spoken but what remains unspoken. This type of listening takes you beyond what a distracted person who is worrying more about the next question than the answer to their last question, or even a mostly active listener who is focusing on the words and not really attending to the non verbal communication, will gain from a conversation.


Perceptive listening allows you to understand the client’s goals and objectives, voiced and unsaid, and assists you to map out a way to help them manage and then move towards achieving those goals.


When a person is being perceptively listened to, they become aware of this, and the communication moves to a different level. They sense that this is happening, and what they are saying or not saying often changes subtly but significantly. If you are listening perceptively, you also will be able to pick this up.


You can also use perceptive listening on yourself! You can monitor the things that you say to yourself and analyse these things. When you are mindful enough to stop and witness your own thoughts, and perceive how you truly feel, your actions will be more perceptive.




Jantsch suggests that you identify five clients that you are currently working with. That you make a time to speak with each of them face to face and ask questions such as :


  • What is the one thing that is working for you well regarding your current parenting/financial arrangements?
  • If you referred a friend to me to assist with parenting/financial arrangements, what would you say about me?
  • What is the biggest challenge you face right now with your parenting/finances?


You might do a similar exercise with a work colleague:


  • What is the thing you love most about coming to work here?
  • If you referred a friend to us, what would you say?
  • What is the biggest challenge you have in meeting your goals right now?


You might also ask yourself the following questions:


  • What is the one thing you love most about what you do?
  • Why do you really do what you do?
  • If you could do anything you wanted would this be it?


The aim is to search for cracks in alignment. Pay attention to the following:


  • how you feel about the answers given to the above questions?
  • how is your client or how are you moving?
  • where do you place your eyes when you speak?
  • how do you model someone’s posture?
  • your breathing as you listen to your client or yourself.


Jantsch points out that all of these factors are essential parts of listening perceptively and ensuring a client feels heard- one of the major goals of assisting someone to resolve their dispute!!


Relax and hear what the other person is saying. Jantsch recommends that to really understand what he is describing, listen to the TED talk by Evelyn Glennie, a deaf percussionist who describes how listening to music is so much more than letting sound waves hit your eardrums.

He also suggests that you consider another way of experiencing the power of perceptive listening by learning to ballroom dance. In this activity you must listen to the other person with all of your senses, you must listen to the music, the tempo and beat, remember whether you are leading or following, respond to the subtlest movements and directions, all the time while trying to remember the next step! Every part of this communication is carried out wordlessly, yet if you are a perceptive listener you will know what to do!


Jantsch has made me question my listening skills, sit back and re-evaluate my interactions with my clients. I pride myself on being a very good communicator, but I realize from working through the suggested exercises and trying to be a more perceptive listener, than even these basic skills should not be taken for granted, but re-examined for improvement and enrichment.


If you too have been exploring different ideas to promote better listening and communication, please contact me at Creative Family Law Solutions so that we can compare notes and work together for best practice.

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