3 Listen to Understand

Listening to Understand: The Art of Building Meaningful Connections

by Jenny on August 25, 2023 Comments Off on Listening to Understand: The Art of Building Meaningful Connections

In our fast-paced world, the skill of listening can easily become an afterthought. We find ourselves preoccupied with crafting our responses, multitasking, and simply waiting for our turn to speak. But what if we shifted our focus from talking to truly listening – not just to respond, but listening to understand? This simple yet profound shift has the potential to transform our relationships, enhance our empathy, and foster meaningful connections.

I recently attended the Purposeful Planning Institute’s annual conference, which was incredible. One session that really stuck with me was titled, “Insights, Intuition, and Connectedness.” The core focus of this session was the power of truly listening, and how it is a skill like any other. We were paired with another attendee and guided through a listening exercise where interrupting, asking questions, or even responding were off the table. Full disclosure, it was challenging and a bit uncomfortable. However, those feelings shined a light on my default setting of listening to respond. Instead, I was tasked with listening solely to understand.

After reflecting on my experience in that session, I want to share some of my notes, thoughts, and key takeaways:

The Power of Presence

In a world that bombards us with distractions, the act of being fully present while listening can be transformative. When we listen to understand, we offer our undivided attention to the speaker. This presence allows us to not only hear their words but also grasp their emotions, intentions, and unspoken messages. In doing so, we validate their feelings and experiences, creating a safe space for genuine dialogue. It was eye-opening to realize that validation doesn’t always have to come in the form of verbiage.

Empathy in Action

Listening to understand is the gateway to empathy. When we truly absorb what others are saying, we step into their shoes and view the world from their perspective. This empathetic understanding goes beyond sympathy – it’s about recognizing and acknowledging someone’s emotions without judgment. This practice can mend relationships, resolve conflicts, and even inspire positive change as we become more attuned to the needs of those around us.

Breaking Down Barriers

In diverse societies, cultural and linguistic differences can create barriers to effective communication. By honing our listening skills, we open doors to cross-cultural understanding. When we actively listen to someone from a different background, we bridge the gap between our experiences and theirs. This fosters an environment of inclusivity and mutual respect, where diverse voices are not just heard but genuinely appreciated.

The Workplace Dynamics

In professional settings, listening to understand is an asset that can enhance teamwork, boost productivity, and drive innovation. Imagine a meeting where each team member feels valued and heard – ideas flow freely, collaboration flourishes, and problem-solving becomes a collective effort. Active listening also strengthens leadership skills; leaders who listen to understand inspire trust and loyalty among their team members.

Cultivating Meaningful Connections

In our personal lives, the quality of our interactions often determines the depth of the bond. When we prioritize listening to understand, we create an emotional connection that transcends surface-level interactions. Friends confide in us, partners feel seen and cherished, and we build a foundation of trust that can weather the storms of life.

Business Application

Modern customers want, need, and expect a lot from the brands they support. From personalized experiences to alignment with their individual priorities, active listening is a must for brands to be relevant and stay relevant long-term. By seeking to truly understand the people behind the purchases, going beyond traditional metrics and transactional data, we are better positioned to deliver on their needs and exceed their expectations.

Part of active listening in this context is considering what is most important to your target audiences, not just your business. Most customer feedback projects are driven by an internal goal or brand development objective. Obviously, this is a valuable and necessary approach to making informed decisions. But let’s not forget that there’s value in simply getting to know the customer. Understanding who they are in a broader sense – their daily goals, challenges, dreams, lifestyle preferences, hobbies, etc. – will enable us to connect more deeply and authentically. We can develop products, services, and experiences that provide meaningful value and joy. At a higher level, customers will see and feel how much they matter which will enhance and enrich their brand experiences.

Listening to understand is something we pride ourselves on here at MacKenzie. We’re gathering customer feedback not only to gain actionable insights, but also for empowering our clients to validate, understand, and empathize with their audiences. That approach has proven valuable to customer experience (CX) strategies, relationship building, and overall brand development goals.

In a world where communication can seem more tactical than heartfelt, the art of listening to understand stands as an opportunity for genuine connection. By actively engaging with others, seeking to empathize with their thoughts and feelings, we pave the way for stronger relationships and a more interconnected society. So, let’s challenge ourselves to set aside our urge to respond and instead embrace the beauty of truly understanding one another – it’s a journey that’s well worth the effort.


Jenny Dinnen is President of Sales and Marketing at MacKenzie Corporation. Driven to maximize customer's value and exceed expectations, Jenny carries a can-do attitude wherever she goes. She maintains open communication channels with both her clients and her staff to ensure all goals and objectives are being met in an expeditious manner. Jenny is a big-picture thinker who leads MacKenzie in developing strategies for growth while maintaining a focus on the core services that have made the company a success. Basically, when something needs to get done, go see Jenny. Before joining MacKenzie, Jenny worked at HD Supply as a Marketing Manager and Household Auto Finance in their marketing department. Jenny received her undergrad degree in Marketing from the University of Colorado (Boulder) and her MBA from the University of Redlands.

JennyListening to Understand: The Art of Building Meaningful Connections