Listen = Discover?

In the last leadership development program, for the first time, I heard people call “Listen” as “Discover”. It makes perfect sense to me. The steps of active listening was:

  • Suspend Agenda
  • Pay attention
  • Asking open ended question like “what”, “why”, “what else”.
  • Paraphrase to confirm understanding

This small tip worked for me fantastically in the last few weeks.

Everyone has a World, Inside

Everyone’s spiritual world is inside his/her mind. It is not easy to explain how the world looks like. People rely on language to communicate it. There are ways to convey feelings, like using art, music, or dance, but not everyone has the technique to express using these ways, or understand it. So language seems to be the major way.

Unfortunately, language is such a narrow tunnel that prevent the whole of the mind to flow quickly and freely from one person to another. Our thought may be random, and paralle, but our language has to be linear and logic. When we “serialize” (the computer term) our thought to a flow of sentences, we often forget to tell many important things, or assume others already know the context. For example, if we have 100% of the thoughts in our mind (maybe 50% is conscious, and 50% is unconscious – even ourselves don’t know we know, but we do know), when we talk, we typically can only talk about 5% of our thoughts.

That is the reason the person who listened should not stop at the 5% they listened. Listener should change a position by asking “Why are you thinking this way?“. This question helps to speaker to tell you more about what is behind the initial 5% of the thoughts, this way, you get 8% (numbers are just for illustration proposes) of what he/she thought. After that, ask “What else do you think?“, or simply “What else?“. This question helps the speaker to explorer inside his/her self to find if there is anything missing. Chances are, there is always something that is at not so top of his/her mind but is also important. This way, you get 11% of what the person think. Keep asking “What”, “why”, and “what else” question during a conversation until you feel satisfied that you have explored enough of the thought of that person. This whole process, I think, is best called “discover”. It is all about observing a misterious world using limited window to that world. This is a very important listening skill.

It was maybe the 5th time in my professional life to attend a seminar for listening skills, but until the last time did I really realize what it means. We can make such a big impact to ourselves, and to the speaker to facilitate better communication.

Game of Yes or No

I like a game called “Yes or No”. The speaker thinks of a story, and only tell the result of the story. The listeners (maybe 10 to 20 of them) all ask close ended question to the speaker, like “Is this person a woman?”, “Was this guy murdered?” The speaker can only gave answers of “Yes”, “No”, or “Irrelevant”.

We typically play the game when we were on the train back home. It was 18 hour train, and it takes about 1 – 2 hours to finally discover the story itself. When it is done, we realize the story was so simple but the Yes/No question was such a narrow channel, that information was not allowed to flow freely. That makes communication that hard.

It is the same in real world. We need to ask “open questions” to discover more of other person’s mind, and also help that person to tell you more than they initially thought.

This was such a useful skill for me, that I’d like to share with everyone on this blog. Good luck.

21 thoughts on “Listen = Discover?

  1. because of my limited english,i don’t think i can understand all you have said.

    but i was doing my best to undersdand it, you know that!~

    i agree that every have a pleace inside heself that others can’t get.

    and i interest in the game you have said.

    may next day i can undersdand all of you have said!!

    sorry if i make mistakes!!~

  2. I have to say the blog is getting boring. there were many good info about shanghai on this blog in one aspect or another, but this kind useful info is less and less.

  3. Hehe. Don’t worry, Oncerest, in the last four weeks, I was always travelling and now I am in San Jose. A blog always reflect the life of the owner, and I hope to leverage the blog to record my thinking and my learning. I never committed that this blog is a Shanghai blog. It is a blog about me. So when I am not in Shanghai, I don’t think it makes too much sense to talk about Shanghai. It is more interesting, at least to me, to record what I learnt in San Jose, and record some difference I observed here. Well. It is just a reflection of the nature of the person who wrote this blog.

  4. yes, your blog actually reflect you very well, when you just graduated from school, you cared more about everyday life, or in another word, material life, such as where to drink starbucks coffee, buy a house, own a car, what happened on the road, in subway, everything is fresh to you, and also to readers.

    little by little, those things are just routines, focus is shift to thoughts, related to your current work.

  5. Thanks for sharing! Interesting and helpful communication skills are always welcome.

    “To listen is to discover” makes stereotypical one-way tunnel into round-way one. Tunnel flows to make sound communication. This innovative concept involves more interactions and mutual understanding, in a way where recipients help shed more light on the subject, and further explore perspective and information on a broader horizon.

    Keep us posted with more tips and insights.

  6. Oncerest, so would you please tell me more about the reasons you visit this blog, and what type of information you expect to see on this blog? I don’t promise that I will write about it, but you can help me by holding a mirror to me and let me understand what is the perception of this blog among my readers. Thanks. This invitation is open to all my readers. I am interested to learn more. There are two missions of this blog. One is for myself (which I think is the key driver for me to keep writing), and the other is to help. If I can be more helpful to visitors, I will also try that.

  7. Coaching wants to live in a useful and meaning life,should put himself/herself in the middle of mirrors, and the difficult and great step is to face with and accept the ugly or poor side in the mirror.

  8. First comment in here, I always see your blogs updating everyday in my Greatnews.

    Exactly admire your persevere. Beijing is also a big city in china, perhaps I may follow your step and share all starbucks in Beijing, just a idea.

  9. I came across your blog when google shanghai related, there are lots of useful info in your blog, for example, how much a man usually earn, where money goes for everyday life, what the life looks like for a man in such big city, and even the comments are very informative, for example, about “shanghai is cold” entry, someone comments how to warm up the room, etc, etc.

    apparently for a dairy alike blog, although it is perfectly nothing wrong, since it is not intend for others, it is fine whatever you write.

  10. It’s a great experience;-) We spend always a lot of time to gather the knowlege, but take few time to think about it and pratice what one preaches. Such things are just like studying philosophy, you get many “gut” ideas in your head, but they are nothing to do with you.

  11. You won’t believe, but I think you have been digging on my mind, because the last comments about deep ways of thinking and questions about how to communicate and the many points of view is what i have been think of lately, perhaps even without having the idea, we had been communicating more than … 15? jejeje… in one shot…

    Sometimes its like that, too people in differente places could reach the same kinda thoughts… It’s a question of the mind and the entorn and casualty that’s the motor of the world and life, or do you understand why your brain works in divergent thinking ways, just clicking in one way or the other, stepping nonsense. hehe.

    Best regards, learn some spanish in puerto rico… if still some fellas talk it hehe… And enjoy listening seminar as much as possible.


  12. thanks a lot, JS!

    i had communication problems these days and i am feel really frustrated. And your article just light me up! I guess the essence of these semiars including MBA/EMBA education is to tell the participate to feel the “management/communication” theory in person.

    The hard part to convey knowledge is what level of knowledge has been summarized/understood by the student. And when we reading a textbook to aquire certain knowlege, the most important things is not the words on the textbooks, but the implication of the words.

  13. oh,i must say that i should say little and look more.

    but i think because of this is a blog that everyone can come,i have a right to say though may make mistake .it’s right?JSW

  14. I read the blog since a couple of months ago. It’s really informative and useful for young and inexperienced person likes me.It just likes a green tea and I will degustate and enjoy it everyday .

  15. Hi,

    Just a few of comments after reading your article coz I am reading the book about communication now.


    I like this idea “listen=discover”. Recently I am reading the book called and have not finished it, but the idea of “coding and Decoding” in the book is like the light that indicates the direction.(It’s very Chinglish…haha…). And I think “Listen=discover” is strategy/attitude and “coding/decoding” is tactics/skills. 我们怀着一颗发现的心,去破解对方的密码. :P

    Coding and Decoding

    People-to-people communication is the progress of coding and decoding, which is the same as sender/receiver in telecommunication. But P to P communication is more mysterious and uncontrolled because all human being are emotional animals rather than machines. It means we have to develop skills to “discover” other thoughts behind their languages, but this kind of skills are not logical, strict and standard, and they are more flexible, variable and unexpected.


    Actually I don’t like using “skills” here because P to P communication is more about FEELING (it should be “气场” in Chinese). We can’t describe what are behind our feelings, but we know whether it is my cup of tea or not. At least, for me, if it is not my cup of tea, I won’t have too much intention to continue the talk. However, in real life we can’t say “I don’t like it, so I don’t want to talk about it”. In other words, the skill how to listen or discover has to be developed, for example:

    – Know more background information and personalities.

    – Know goal, benefit points, intention, obstacles and so on.

    -…….(keep updating some day. :P)

    When I was young, I didn’t understand why they always paid attention on communication. We just say what we thought straightforward, why is it difficult? Of coz I know I was naive at that moment. We are not worms in other stomachs. How can we know each other simply? It is Long March to develop such kind of skills and know human being.

  16. all in all, ask more open question, less yes/no question, which would dramatically improve effectiveness of a conversation.

  17. This is my first time to visit here,I am pleased to see so many wonderful comments.I know the purpose of some foreign friends who come here is to know more about shanghai.Among them,there are some people want to rent houses in shanghai,this is one of my purpose-to help the foreigners find a good place.


    Are you confused by looking for a comfortable houses in shanghai?

    Brian (shanghai), professional real estate agency, offering apartments, service apartment, villas, old houses, offices etc properties for rent or sale service in shanghai, servicing to client is free.

    Contact us immediately, We will try our best to help you out, not only a comfortable house/apartment can you get, but your satisfaction, and Cross-cultural training.

    Welcome to visit our company website or contact us directly.

    Hot line :(86)21 5109 6644

    Fax : (86)21 5109 6644


    Best Regards

    Brian Shanghai

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *