Active Listening (Part 3): Listening for “Why”

A Critical Doer generates motion from “why” more than “what”






  1. The ability to identify with or understand another’s situation or feelings:


Do you know the difference between a good listener and a good active listener?  A good listener will listen to what you are saying.  A good active listener will also listen for why you are saying what you are saying.

“What” resides on the surface…”why” resides in the heart.  Dealing with “what” is like treating symptoms of a disease where “why” is like curing the disease itself.  Empathy is the skill that will help you make the jump from listener to active listener…and a Critical Doer.

Here’s a simple example from everyday life to illustrate the point.  You’re at home diligently reading the latest Critical Doer post when your spouse walks up and says “please pick up that pair of dirty socks off the floor.”

That may seem innocuous enough…it’s just a pair of socks.  Although that’s what your spouse said, is that why your spouse said it?  Did you notice the stressed voice inflection with the emphasis on “floor” rather than “socks”, the eyes a little wider than normal with pupils dilated more open, hands clenched or on the hips, that your spouse asked while you were reading Critical Doer (this is a hypothetical situation, no one would really interrupt you while reading Critical DoerJ)

If you’re a good listener, you’ll pick up the socks and get back to reading…then quickly find out that “Houston, we still have a problem.”  An active listener would have listened with an empathetic ear to pick up on key data points that go beyond the words.  An active listener with empathy would immediately realize there’s an issue of stress that revolves around time.  Taking care of the socks and working through a few questions that get to the root cause and solutions to address them will accomplish far more than simply doing exactly what you were asked.

The same thing happens in the work place…and it’s a myth that only supervisors fail to actively listen to their people.  It truly goes both ways.  When supervisors fails to actively listen, they miss opportunities to address significant issues that can increase efficiency, profit, and morale.

When workers fail to actively listen, they work at what makes sense to them but it may not fit the strategic vision of the organization.  Things will get done, but maybe not the right things.  When this happens, opportunity and profits decrease…and the door to a bright future closes.

Your challenge is to take a fresh look at your listening skills to see if you are using empathy to not only listen for what but why when others are speaking.  If you listen empathetically, you’ll address root causes rather than symptoms.  When this happens you’ll move beyond being a reactive problem solver and become a proactive opportunity creator.  It’s what a Critical Doer would…do!


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Updated: April 12, 2015 — 9:29 am