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Start with listening:

How your ears can change the world


by Laura Packer


We live in an increasingly loud world. Politicians and pundits scream for our attention. Advertisers raise the volume for our money. Even people we love are so desperate to be heard that all voices are lost in the noise. 


Recent neurological research demonstrates that when we listen deeply to another, our bodies respond by releasing hormones associated with empathy and relationship building. Our brains use listening to connect with others, whether we are the listener or the one being heard. This means that we have the relationship tools we need built right into our bodies, yet we are so hungry to be heard that we have forgotten how to use them; there are dangerous consequences for individuals and society when we stop listening. We are in a state of listening deficit, of disconnection, but there are concrete things you can do to fill the void.


Learn to listen without interrupting. This step is the hardest. Be mindful of interrupting others. Let them finish their thought before you comment. This is hard because we have been taught interrupting indicates engagement, but when we interrupt we are subtly saying that our thoughts are more important than those of the speaker.


Practice! Have a listening buddy. It’s hard to learn how to be a better listener so find an ally. Ask someone you trust for help. Set up listening sessions where you agree to listen to each other without interrupting. Tell them a story. Listen to theirs. How does it feel to listen without interrupting? If it’s hard at first, practice will make it easier. How did it feel to be heard without interruption? It might have been uncomfortable but it probably also felt good. Remember that you can give that gift of attention to others at any time.

Model good listening. Once you have the hang of good listening, try it with others in your life. They might notice how good it feels and decide to try it themselves. At a minimum, you are likely to learn things about them you never knew, because they know you will listen. 


Ask for what you need. If you find you need to be listened to, ask someone you trust to listen to you without interruption. This gives you a chance to listen to yourself, to think aloud with a witness, which can be a very powerful experience. 


Ask gentle questions. It can be hard to listen to someone with whom you disagree. Next time, try listening then when they come to a pause ask a gentle question and see how they answer. You are more likely to persuade someone to another point of view by listening and asking questions than you are by arguing with them. I have found gentle personal questions are the best, such as, “I hear you. Why do you think that policy will help you or your family?” 


Listen again. Keep practicing. Work with your buddy. Ask others to listen to you. We can all be better listeners. 


This is, of course, a simple introduction to a complex topic, but it’s a place to start. 


As we become better listeners, listening spreads out like ripples in a pond. The people we listen to might become better listeners themselves. At a minimum they will feel heard, and you may build a deeper relationship with them because you heard their story. They may be more interested in your story because they no longer feel such urgency to be heard.


They learn to trust you and you feel empathy for each other.


When we feel empathy for each other it becomes harder to label someone as “other” because we know their concerns are much like our own. It becomes harder to hurt one another because we know their stories and those stories are much like ours. But it all starts with listening. Every one of us has the power to change the world.

Evolving Magazine

Kansas City

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Laura Packer knows that the best way to the truth is through a good story. She has used the transformative power of story to entertain, enlighten, coach, heal, and consult for 25 years. She is the winner multiple awards for her performance and service. Laura is also the sole proprietor of thinkstory llc where she helps organizations identify, hone, capitalize upon and celebrate their stories. For more information visit,, and




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