Photo by Erix! on Creative Commons

I am re-posting this piece today that I wrote in July 2012. This week, I will be working on listening with my third ear.

Do you listen carefully to key people in your world? Are you able to be observant of not only the words said, but to the body language? If so, that’s just-the-beginning.

This post intends to expand your concept of deeply listening to a person or people in a meeting, work situation, or relationship. I hope to bring a new possibility to you that can then inform your understanding and your intentional actions with those same people.

I’ve been reading Theodor Reik’s Listening With The Third Ear. Dr. Reik was a student of Freud; and, the book is written for psychoanalysts (therefore, it may not be for you).  While not a psychologist myself, I see so many opportunities for each of us to listen with our third ear for  the good of our relationships and results.

Your third ear is an unseen “organ” that picks up and digests information and creates insights that can be helpful. Dr. Reik says:
” We receive impressions through senses that are in themselves beyond the reach of our consciousness.”

You can attend to your third ear by being observant, reflective, patient, and allowing of brilliance.

Here is a much simplified summary of what I am taking from my reading.

Listen to the Unspoken, The Unconscious

I know you have had the experience of being in a meeting when someone makes a strong statement such as “We need to really get behind this initiative!” and his or her tone and facial expression tells a different story. Maybe you “hear” something like “If you didn’t screw up over the last months…” or “I don’t really think you can do it” or “I know we can do it!” Or, maybe the same statement was made in a nice, calm tone and you wonder if he is saying, “We all know this isn’t going to happen…” or “I hope you will pull through on this.” One of these may very well be his unconscious message that your unconscious receives.

Listening to the unspoken goes way beyond the visual cues a person or the team might give you. You may simply have a “sense” that something is a bit off in the monologue. Or, maybe you feel the room of people tighten up. Take note. You are likely hearing the unspoken messages of the collective group. If you know more about the speaker and the people in the room, you make quickly ascertain that something different is occurring. Or, you might only incorporate that sense later on your way home from work.

First impressions fall into this concept.When we meet someone who seems on edge, with a darting of an eye to their watch during our introduction, we take in data that may be valuable as we try to figure him or her out in the future.

But, so often we don’t allow ourselves to expand our listening. We are so focused on the conscious content and ourselves that we often don’t bring our curiosity to the person or the dynamics. We want to move ahead in action to make something happen or protect ourselves from that happening.

Listen to Your Own Conscious Response

Being aware of your own conscious response in a situation or with a person is another critical aspect of your third ear. When you hear this person saying “We really need to get behind this initiative,” what feeling surfaces within you? Do you feel inspired, hopeless, angry, or something else? Why? What part of your background, concerns, and interests help shape or trigger your response?

A challenge I see in developing this type of listening is how conditioned we are to engage rather than step back and observe—others and our Self. The conversation happens so fast. The meeting is short, followed by four more. And we are more likely to respond through our triggers than be aware of them and put our reaction on-hold for a time to sort them through.

The task is not simply to “know thyself,” but to use what we know about our Selves.

Listen Through Your Own Unconscious

And, finally the toughest part of our third ear.  Many or most of us have had flashes of insight while taking a run or shower. A surprising clarity emerges just in the nick of time. Sometimes, the complexity of what we know appears through a hunch that proves useful in both understanding and possible ways to take action.

I’ll finish for now with one of my favorite quotes. Dr Reik says, “(man) arrives at his deepest insights neither by searching for a conclusion nor by jumping to one. The best way is for him to wait until a conclusion jumps to him.”


Slow down this week in key meetings, and listen with your third ear.