Now Hear This - Page 2 of 3

Now Hear This

listening can lead to dangerous misunderstandings.

It is often why there are miscommunications between black employees and white employers. “African Americans put things through a lot of filters,” explains Scott. “We often come into conversations not feeling ‘good enough.’ But if we pay attention to what’s going on, we take the pressure off ourselves and are better able to really listen to what’s going on in the conversation.” This may encourage our white employers and colleagues to see past their own biases and filters.

Becoming a good listener requires practice — after writing his book, Nichols acknowledges that he is painfully aware of needing to improve his own listening skills. But according to Burley-Allen, the payoffs of becoming a level one listener are worth it. Level one listening is compassionate and trust-building. When you achieve this level, you say to the speaker that you care enough about them to really listen to what they’re saying. “You’re not coming to the conversation with your own biases but are being empathetic to the other person’s point of view,” Burley-Allen says.

Listening involves more than simply tuning in to words, says Michele Pierce, founding director of the Harriet Tubman Charter School in New York. “Nonverbal communication is very important,” she says. “It is very important to be aware of what is not being said. When I meet with students or parents, I sit up straight — it shows attentiveness — and I make direct eye contact and lean in to the person I’m speaking with.”

So, the next time you and your boss come to an impasse, tune in, not out. And instead of nagging your spouse about taking out the garbage, try engaging him or her in a conversation about their workday and daily responsibilities. You may find that a little conversation and acknowledgment of his or her side of the story is all it takes to get that trash out to the curb.


  1. Want to become a better listener? These five tips will help you reach that goal and become a more effective communicator. “Decide that the encounter is about your listening to what the other person is going to say,” says Nichols. Scott reminds her clients to be present in conversations and aware of inside noise — are you really listening or are you thinking about what you’re going to say after the speaker has finished?
  2. Invite the other person to express what he or she has to say while you do nothing but listen. “Listen from the heart,” says Pierce. “We judge so much when we listen to others. When you make up your own story about a person, you’re not really listening.”
  3. Let the person know what you think they were trying to say. According to Scott, paraphrasing what the speaker is saying lets him or her know that you’re actively listening.
  4. Invite the other person to correct your impression or to elaborate on your point of view — the point is not to make them repeat themselves, but to extend the conversation.