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  • Writer's pictureSean

Listen Like You Mean It!

First, a shoutout to Portfolio Books for sending a free copy my way!

How are your listening skills? Do you think of yourself as a good listener?

Ximena Vengoechea's book Listen Like You Mean It could be the book you need to really step up your listening game while helping to reclaim connection. What really stands out about this book is its readability, the inclusion of easy-to-use exercises, and graphics that lighten the book's overall tone. Some books can come across as stiff and inaccessible, but Vengoechea's book breaks up any perceived monotony with infographics and drawings.

The real strength of this book is the content. Thorough, helpful and as mentioned, full of exercises and insight to better make us all better listeners. Everything starts with our mindset and how we approach each conversation. Do you find yourself stressing about the three things you need to say, or are you relaxed and ready to let the discussion flow as required while being mindful of your message? This all starts before the conversation even happens as we build our own awareness of how we interact with others.

Consider that our posture, our level of interest in the topic (can we shift to being more curious about the other person?), and our emotions at the moment all factor into how the conversation may go and something we need to think about before starting. Ximena distinguishes listening into the idea of surface listening and empathetic listening, which is a helpful distinction. Surface listening is us hearing the literal conversation but missing the emotional content. As Ximena writes, empathetic listening "is what allows us to be more effective listeners ... when we deliberately slow things down and seek to understand others' inner worlds."

She notes:

"One of the most common and easiest listening mistakes we can make in surface listening mode is to project our own feelings, ideas, or experiences onto others."

This is often where we lose track of our own conversations, a singular focus on what is going on inside our minds versus what the other person may be feeling. There are parallels to what we see in social media, where many "conversations" are two individuals speaking their one side. Imagine two individuals trying to connect in a way where understanding is the fundamental goal. Sadly, social media isn't designed for conversation; text limits, endless scrolling, and no incentive to connect (will we actually talk to this person again?)

I'm reminded of this quote from Sherry Turkle in her book Reclaiming Conversation:

"So we move away from the slower pace, where you have to wait, listen, and let your mind go over things. We move away from the pace of human conversation. And so conversations without agenda, where you discover things as you go along, become harder for us. We haven't stopped talking, but we opt out, often unconsciously, of the kind of conversation that requires full attention. Every time you check your phone in company, what you gain is a hit of stimulation, a neurochemical shot, and what you lose is what a friend, teacher, parent, lover, or co-worker just said, meant, felt."

This book looks to not only reclaim conversation but strengthen the ways we converse. Understanding that being curious about another is our way in and recognizing that the emotional feelings of the other person are how we can genuinely connect. With this recognition comes the need to be humble. Vengoechea recognizes that humility can be one of our biggest strengths. Consider this easy to remember list to place yourself in the right mindset for humility:

  1. Let go of preconceived notions

  2. Leave judgment at the door

  3. Assume you are in the presences of an expert

How often are we crippled by our own preconceived notions? Why are we automatically correct, and why do we think we know this other person? As humans, we seem hardwired to judge quickly and move on. As these judgments solidify, we tend to apply them to everyone who comes into focus. Reminding ourselves this ahead of time can help to break down those barriers we may have erected.

This is an excellent book for anyone looking to strengthen their conversation skills and, ultimately, their connections. In a world where we've spent the last year working from home and conversing through computers, a book like this can help get those face-to-face conversations rolling again.


For a deeper look at Sherry Turkle's book Reclaiming Conversation check out this post here. Looking for something to boost your mindset before heading into those conversations? I'd suggest this post on Martin Seligman's book Authentic Happiness.

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