The Need for Listening

“Listening is not understanding the words of the question asked, listening is understanding why the question was asked in the first place–”                                                                                                                       -Simon Sinek
Listening has become a lost art.
Research on listening indicates that we spend about 80% of our waking hours communicating: writing 9%, reading 16%, speaking 30% and 45 to 50 percent of our day engaged in listening, to people, music, TV, radio, etc. About 75 percent of that time we are forgetful, pre-occupied, or not paying attention. One of the factors influencing this statistic is that the average attention span for an adult in the United States is 22 seconds. It’s no surprise to note the length of television commercials, usually anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds. This constant change of focus makes it more difficult to listen for any significant length of time. Immediately after we hear someone speak, we remember about half of what they have said. A few hours later we remember only about 10 to 20 percent. Yet, less than 5 percent of us have ever concentrated on developing our skills in listening. When people hear these numbers, they often say: ―This is so interesting. I know that I spend hours preparing to speak. I don’t think I’ve ever consciously prepared to listen.

Prepare to listen
I’ve discovered the importance about teaching people how to prepare to listen—to become a listening presence. Many of us have had the experience of preparing to give a speech or make a presentation. There are classes in public speaking available in almost every community. We know where to go to learn how to refine and develop presentation skills. For the most part we never even think about what it might mean to prepare to listen—to become a true listening presence no matter what the situation much less how to go about doing so. Two perspectives on listening stand above the others.

Listening as an art
Listening is more than hearing words and more than an action; it is an art. One of the common themes of an art is the sense of being at one with it. Thinking about listening as an art changes our perception of what it means to listen Rather than thinking of listening as an act, something we ―do, we recognize it as an art, something that we ―be, as a part of who we are, a way of being. We become a listening presence.

Listening as a choice
We choose whether we wish to listen. Most of the time, we are completely unaware that we are making a choice. Learning that we have a choice to listen or to not listen is a very powerful insight. We discover how much better we listen when we know that we have chosen to listen, and how much less stress we have when we know that we have consciously chosen not to listen.

FUN FACT: Less than 2% of people have had any formal education in listening.
Yet, people spend around 70-80% of their day engaged in some form of communication, and nearly 50% of their time is devoted to listening.
So, What I’m seeing here is that there is a whole lot of empty listening going on. So, what do we (I) do about this? I have been fortunate to begin surrounding myself with individuals who have trained themselves in the art of listening. Together, this is what we have discovered:

THERE IS A GREAT NEED TO BE HEARD. Great Listeners can meet this need.

A GREAT LISTENER LISTENS by Knowing the difference between hearing and listening, Avoiding the paralyzing paradox of listening failure (hearing when you think you’re listening), and Sharing a true intent to respond (which cultivates authentic and enduring relationships).
A GREAT LISTENER will pay close attention to their own well-being by increasing the following in their daily life:

·       Cultivating Silence
There is no listening without silence. Listening to the silence, listening beyond words is also called contemplative listening. It’s about taking time to be quiet and simply be. Getting comfortable with silence is a practice that will transform your capacity to listen.

·       Desiring to Slow Down our Conversations & Reflect
Reflective listening is listening to yourself - your True Self -getting to know the voice of your soul. Once we learn to know and trust this voice we find ourselves able to recognize when we need to speak and when we need to listen.

·       Listening in the Present
Deep listening occurs at the heart level. It is present when we feel most connected to another person or to a group of people. Our hearts expand and our capacity to communicate with those of differing beliefs and customs increases.

I truly feel that LISTENING is the cure for the emotional cancer that is increasingly crippling our society and bringing us to our knees. Today we must rise together and thrive through the Power of Listening.

Mike Bearden
Founder and Listening Coach with the Next Listener Program at

Lee, Dick. (2019, October). Listening: Our Most Used Communications Skill.
Lindhal, Kay. (2009). Sacred Listening.
Piombino, Kristin. (2013, Nov. 14). Listening Facts You Never Knew.

The Power of Next

We live in a time where fear, uncertainty, or doubt can dominate our surroundings. This atmosphere seems to breed these and other emotions that keep us from feeling anchored in life. If unsure economic times weren’t enough, how about regular life challenges? The death of a loved one, birth of your child, marriage, and divorce. Life is too exciting to remain stuck. Stuck is anything that keeps you from moving forward. It keeps you from seeing what’s next. True progress cannot take place until one acknowledges when, where, or why they became stuck. Only once we have taken an honest look at ourselves can we can move ahead with our self-discovery and set a direction.
You can choose to give in to every emotion and let it control you or you can “grab the reins” and use these moments to contribute to your personal growth in a positive way. Yes, that’s easier said than done, but that is what will create forward motion.
Where does one turn in times like these? Do I just believe more in myself? Do I purchase and read every book in the world on the topic of personal growth or pay the perfect professional? While these choices can and do bring an element of security and confidence in your next steps for each day, I truly believe that a simple and balanced approach to life is the key to long-lasting and decisive decisions that enable you to become who you are meant to be.
A good friend of mine lives by the word “Thrive” and passes on this philosophy of living to others every chance she gets. Thriving assumes that one is in the position to grow, move ahead, get ahead, and prosper. I believe that Thriving in life can be the goal to one day achieve as a lifestyle. Yet, in order to get there, you must often get yourself out of the rut you find yourself in with each challenging season of life. That’s where the need for NEXT comes into focus.
I’ll never forget my senior year in High School when, during one of my varsity baseball games, I was pitching to a young man named MASH. That’s right. His last name was MASH in all capitals on the back of his jersey. His physical appearance made him look like he was on the “six-year plan” for high school. I threw my best curve ball—and that’s when it happened. I had never heard such a beautiful sound of a baseball coming in contact with a baseball bat. It was one of those sounds where you knew that the ball was not only hit as hard as a human could possibly hit it, but where I actually thought I heard the ball itself scream “Ouch!” I could have been angry or upset, but I had to just laugh. As MASH rounded first base, our eyes met. I gestured to him with six fingers (suggesting that he was on the six-year plan) to which he gestured back to me with only one finger. I’ll let you decide which finger he used. I could have “responded” right then in another manner and “cleared the dugouts.” (Our team was known for the occasional scuffle with other teams) But I chose to just laugh. I made a choice right then to respond with the positive.
Fortunately, by my senior year, I had begun establishing a positive response outlook on life. This baseball moment was one of thousands of choices that I faced daily. Little did I know how important this conscious and positive direction of the choices I made would become. Early in my senior year of high school, I was blindsided with the news that my father had been diagnosed with cancer. Here was yet another opportunity for me to choose to respond positively and grow or give in to the daily challenges of life.

Life threw me seasonal curveballs and I chose to respond with what I now call “The Power of Next.” My life has followed this thread of understanding in my marriage, my work, and in every relationship I’ve had in each area of my life. Each day continues to bring with it the opportunity to grow in the Power of Next.
The Power of Next focuses on the never-ending challenge of bringing balance to an individual’s life intellectually, physically, spiritually, and socially. Key principles behind this balance are the “Element of Discovery” and the “Element of Direction”. It is in Discovery that we find the Power we need to thrive in life, and it is in Direction that we continue to discover the vital necessity of Next, thinking forward and always living with purpose. Find your NEXT and begin living with forward momentum with a positive purpose.

A Compass Without a True North

Anger gripped every bone in my body. I didn’t even hesitate. I found my way into the car and just began to drive. The dark of an 11pm night just added to my frustration. To be honest, I don’t even remember what started the fight. I just needed to withdraw myself from the tense atmosphere that shrouded myself and my father. Having this type of blowout with my dad at the age of 16 might not be that unusual. But getting lost in the “middle of nowhere” after an hour of just driving west was more than unusual. In fact, it became a bit scary as I was forced to admit that I was lost. My emotions controlled my actions. My mind was superseded by a heart filled with conviction that I was right and that anyone who disagreed with me was messed up. Had it not been for a beacon in the form of a light in the sky declaring the location of the only car dealer in town, I would have really found myself in trouble, knowing that I would have had to call my dad and let him know I was lost as well. I knew that the car dealer was near a freeway and that I could find my way home from there. I knew that the car dealer was north of my location. Having that one bearing would help me navigate back home. Our wonderful Earth also possesses a North Pole or true North.
Our planet has three North Poles (four if you count Santa). First, there's true north, which is the northern end of the axis on which our planet turns. But our planet's protective magnetic bubble, or magnetosphere, isn't perfectly aligned with this spin. Instead, the dynamo of Earth's core creates a magnetic field that is slightly tilted from the planet's rotational axis. The northern end of this planet-size bar magnet is what's known as geomagnetic north—a point sitting off the northwest coast of Greenland that's changed position little over the last century. Then there's magnetic north, what your compass locates, which is defined as the point at which magnetic field lines point vertically down. Unlike geomagnetic north, this position is more susceptible to the surges and flows in the swirl of liquid iron in the core. These currents tug on the magnetic field, sending magnetic north hopping across the globe (National Geographic, 2019). NASA has recently published in 2019 yet another article on the continuous shift of the Earth’s magnetic north (Nasa, 2019). Regardless of the possible political consequences of the impending “doom” of even a complete shift in poles, just as our physical world continues to move, so do our societal behavioral norms. 
Today our society in many ways has lost its sense of true north. I would raise the question of whether or not we have moved away from our “Moral Compass” or our True North when it comes to right and wrong. We live in a world that no longer desires universal truths for the fear of offending another with a personal standard. While I personally do my best every day to NEVER judge another person’s values, choices, and other life decisions, I must admit that it does bother me a bit when others are not so courteous to return that favor. I continue to witness so many persons who are first to condemn another for feeling judged are also the first to quickly judge others without getting to know, listen, or understand the other person. This behavior is developing at such a rate that rational responses are slowly disappearing in our society’s thought process. I see a changing society eager to gravitate towards a “magnetic north” when it comes to moral character. Popular opinion not only imitates true north but continually changes based on the emotional turbulence of the moment. Another growing concern of mine is that this new rule of character applies not only to the individual but becomes a group/herd mentality that finds it easy to overreact and set rationale aside for the sake of feeling that they are right. And of course, they are right, at least for that day. Tomorrow, we don’t know which way the wind will blow.
Steven Porter recently wrote a summary article from Dallas Willard’s posthumous publication, The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge. In his article he wrote that Morality has been left to be thought as mere “tradition,” feeling, opinion, or “faith.” This view of morality is not action-guiding and it fails to provide an authoritative basis upon which morality can be commended to others. The result is that Western society was set morally-adrift (Willard, 2018).
I personally believe that as long as we continue to ignore a “true north” and become comfortable with a “magnetic north” guiding what’s left of our “sense of morality,” we as a people will continue to suffer from identity confusion (a loss of direction) and perhaps even embrace all reality as relative. In some psychological circles, this can mimic the very definition of psychosis, a break from reality and living in nothing but a fantasyland. No wonder so much doesn’t make much sense anymore. We must redefine ourselves as individuals who listen instead of judge, are slow to speak, and slow to anger. We are in great need of taking a powerful life pause and truly seek and honest self-reflection and begin to embrace our current Identity. Only then can we live in reality and pursue real forward Direction in our lives. We need a Compass with a True North.

The Power of the Pause

“You’ve been given TWO ears and One mouth for a reason.” “Give yourself a time-out.” “All things in moderation.” “Hey, let’s take a break.” “Take Five.” “Wait a minute.” “Take a chillaxative.” OK, I made that last one up. But you get the point. These sayings and others have been distributed to generation after generation in the hopes that we might pause our lives long enough to gain perspective and perhaps even wisdom before moving forward in life decisions.
Today’s society seems to be so emotionally charged that people “react” prematurely and immaturely in their decision making much more than acting wisely. I would argue that the opposite of acting wisely is being a fool. Many generations ago, being called a fool was one of the greatest insults you could label a person. You might say that the word “fool” was the original four-letter “F” curse word. There was nothing positive about being labeled a fool. Fools are often a willing victim of deception. If a person has been successfully deceived by another, then that person is considered a fool. Deception is nothing but lying. Psychology Today defined it this way. Deception refers to the act—big or small, cruel or kind—of causing someone to believe something that is untrue. Unfortunately, this has become a huge cornerstone of our society today. Students lie on papers to advance their grade. Children lie to parents to get what they want. Business thrives on it for profit. And let’s not even go into politics. Or should we?
Deception has grown out of control in today’s world. Perhaps it has always been from the start. Yet, from my perspective, the toll it has taken in our world today is one we just cannot seem to rebound from. Another old saying is, “You have to tell another lie to cover up your previous lie.” And they just keep building upon one another until you are caught, lose your job, end a relationship, or just move on without really experiencing the depth of honest relational growth. We live in a world permeated with deception/lies. It’s no wonder that we often blindly accept the “word” of another as truth and allow them to guide our lives. Today, so many people choose to quickly “buy the lie” and not exercise patience before rushing to judgment and/or emotionally charged decisions that more often than not are ill-informed and extremely biased in nature. This type of communication is not only damaging but also benefits nobody.
I would like to introduce a new phrase, “There is Wisdom in Waiting.” Unfortunately, we live in a world that wants everything done, and they want it done yesterday. Yet I would challenge you to discover the Power of the PAUSE. I believe that instead of rushing to quick judgment of what often is deceptive communication from another, that you pause before opening your mouth, mind, and heart, and ultimately reacting emotionally with very little intellect behind your actions. The best way to begin defeating deception and discovering wisdom is to PAUSE before making inward and outward decisions, both verbal and non-verbal. My suggestion would be to take proportionate pause response time before moving forward with all decisions. In fact, I would recommend that the larger the decision, the longer the Pause that is needed before moving ahead. Now that is wisdom. There is great personal power when we take the time to breathe, relax, wait, and then respectfully respond to others before we rush to judgment and rob ourselves of the respect and maturity that comes with just a Pause.

Mary Ellen

All my ears could hear was the slow murmur of the oxygen tank, slowly feeding the much-needed air to my mother who had entered her last days in the comfort of her bed and loved ones surrounding her. The “angels of the hospice program” were not only sent from above but also expressed the gift of service reserved for incredible people with hearts of gold. Mom’s labored breathing and lowering blood pressure slowly announced the carefully calculated time my mom had left on this earth.
Then entered Mary Ellen, an 87-year-old Deaconess of the Greek Orthodox Church. Also a resident of the facility of which my mom lived, Mary Ellen cleans the feet of others. She never misses an opportunity to serve those around her both physically and spiritually. And that included my mom. Alzheimer’s Dementia had begun to conclude its merciless journey into my mom’s brain for years and was now seeking its ultimate victory over her life. While sitting next to Gerry (my mom’s boyfriend – that’s another story), our time of sharing and listening was pleasantly interrupted as in strolled Mary Ellen with her walker. With a loving yet firm expression, Mary Ellen informs me that she was going to give my mom communion, following a special blessing she had administered the night before. While I am not personally Greek Orthodox, I witnessed a blessing like no other as she gently placed a Q-tip, dipped with oil, on the lips of my mom. And then Mary Ellen proceeded to carefully move her walker aside and slowly and very gingerly get on her knees next to my mom. She then reached up and grabbed her hand, administered a prayer and gave communion to her. No pomp & circumstance, just a humble lady faithfully serving another in the midst of the oncoming death itself, seeking to take one of this earth’s most precious gems. Only hours later, my dear mom was ushered into the hands of God.
Personally, each day recently has made me feel like a pinball emotionally, not just because of my mom’s physical condition but also because my family is literally only days away from celebrating a DIY wedding for my eldest daughter. Only days ago my eldest daughter Kristina was blessed to spend time with Grandma while she still maintained a bit of consciousness. While tears flowed down the face of this bride-to-be, she enjoyed sharing life with her grandma and recalling events from the past that will now serve as loving memories for her new family as well.
The emotions for everyone have been, to say the least, all over the place. From deep sorrow of losing mom to incredible joyful pride for the union of my daughter and her fiancé. And then, right in the midst of this emotional roller coaster comes Mary Ellen, a reminder that when it comes right down to it that what really matters in life is love, listening, and serving others. This world is in great need of more saints like Mary Ellen and a true love for others as expressed through unconditionally serving, even in times of illness and/or coming death. As the mind, body, and spirit all come to a close in this journey we call life, there is nothing to fear as long as we have beautiful saints like Mary Ellen.

You Are my Sunshine!

“I know I don’t have any rights to these, but…” Before I could say anything, my wife told Jerry, “Of course Jerry. You can have these.” It began with a painting and ended up with a pillow. Realizing that Alzheimer’s Dementia would ultimately claim victory over my mom, discussions on what to do with her possessions began some time ago. When it came down to it, there were really only a few items that carried with them enough sentiment for me to wish to have upon her death. One was her Cedar Chest because it had the uncanny ability to take me back to my childhood where I would pause and be transported to another time and place full of youthful memories.
The other item was this painting of the sunset which hung on my mom’s wall for the last few decades. To me this represented her love for the beach as it depicted a sunset from the viewpoint from a beach overlooking a coastline. In all honesty, when Jerry asked for this item, my heart stopped ever so briefly. Fortunately, I didn’t even have enough time to think about it as it found its way into the hands of my wife. Jerry was just sitting alone in what used to be my mom’s room only hours before. He looked empty and lonely. As much as my wife and I (and his family the night before) tried to let him know he was loved, there was now a missing piece in his daily life/love routine. My wife simply quickly disappeared with the painting.
As I paused for a moment and reflected for a bit with Jerry on the time he spent with my mom, my wife returned with a picture on her phone of the new residence of this beach sunset. Looking like it belonged in its new setting brought a smile to all of our faces. Jerry realized that there was an empty space on the wall right next to his room door and just knew this painting would be a perfect fit. And he was right. Not only will this painting fill a void on a wall, but it will also help the void in Jerry’s heart each time he returns to his room at the end of a long day.
Believe it or not, I was still a little “miffed” at the painting not finding a place at my house. You might be saying, “Mike, really? Get over it.” And you would be correct. And don’t worry, that feeling of jealousy of mine was short-lived. Soon after the painting had found its new home, Jerry, holding back tears, explained why that painting had so much meaning for him. You see, part of the way Jerry showed my mom love DAILY was to type out songs they would sing together and slowly build a library of these songs in a 3-ring binder. Jerry shared with us, “Birdie and I would sing You Are My Sunshine to each other, and I would just sing it to her these last few weeks as she could no longer really sing. This painting reminds me of those times.” I don’t miss that painting much anymore because it has found a greater purpose.
As my wife and I listened to Jerry, we began to better understand him. Listening was so valuable to all of use during this challenging season of life. I am so glad that I paused just long enough to listen to Jerry before letting emotions cloud my thinking and do something ridiculous like keeping that painting for myself. My mom loved the beach. Her love for the beach found its way onto a painting and now into Jerry’s heart. Isn’t it funny how richer we become when we listen to others, especially in times of sorrow? Thanks for letting me listen Jerry. Who is going to bless you next as you listen to them?