Want to Deepen Trust? Listen to This

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” –Karl A. Menniger

I was sitting across the lunch table from a client as he let me inside his most vulnerable and protected thoughts. His words were deliberate—self-reflective and self-conscious—and his voice unsteady as his eyes locked on me, looking for judgment. This was holy ground and I knew that my slightest misstep would send him running back under the protective layer of his ego.

I knew it because of this one simple truth: profound listening develops the deepest layers of trust.


This was an important person talking about important things, so being attentive, attuned and engaged in the conversation came somewhat easily to me. But the real moments of truth came when his words stopped. Everything in me wanted to fill the empty space. Everything in me wanted to say:

The good news is that it sounds like you are making progress.

You’re not alone. A lot of people face this.

I’ve had the same thing happen. What worked for me was to…

She’s really being unreasonable. You shouldn’t have to deal with that.

Every one of these responses would be an attempt to help, but none would be the most helpful response.

While I’m sure the client would have appreciated my response, it would have short-circuited the opportunity between us.

I know this because I’m on the other side of that lunch table as well.

Once a month, I meet with a coach to consider how to move beyond much of what holds me back. So I expect advice. The last time we met, I talked about a personal struggle that was getting in my way. I could tell that he thought I’d make it past my struggle, that he saw the way out, and that he’d been there himself. I looked at him expectantly, and then he said to me:

I’m so sad for you. That is really hard.

I was shocked, not so much at what he said, but at my reaction to it. I swallowed back my tears and whispered, “thanks.” And then I broke the silence by continuing to process my situation. I became more self-aware and resilient.

After it was clear that I’d really exhausted my thoughts and emotions on the topic, I think he may have suggested an idea or two. But that’s not what I remembered from the conversation.

Stephen Covey once said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

When someone reveals who they really are, do you listen to respond, or do you listen to expand?

As I wrote last week, the best way to connect and engage with someone is to unfold an inside view.



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  • Eileen B
    April 29, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    Wow, such a true comment on the listening and intent. Thanks for this blog, Matt, and for sharing your personal, not just professional, experiences and insight.

  • Matt Norman
    May 6, 2015 at 2:03 am

    Thank you, Eileen! I appreciate your comments and am glad that it resonates with you.