Over my many years as an executive coach working with enterprise leaders, the phraseology “Active Listening” has been persistently present. Some believe it to be the key to more profound relationships in and out of the workplace. I’m here to tell you that there is more to it than that.

What students of active listening have been told is to listen, and then repeat back what was said. This in no way means that the information is truly being taken in, it just means you’re a parrot who is giving the illusion of real understanding. In some ways, it’s almost worse than checking out of the conversation all together because at least then the person talking knows where they stand!

Think about a time where you were seemingly listening, masked as active listening. It happens quite often with parents and their kids. Can you hear yourself repeating the never-ending story’s details without actually processing any of the information? “Wow, you broke your pencil. You asked your friend if you could borrow hers. She said yes.” And we have become trained to be good at this! When the person calls you out for being disengaged, you can pull out enough bullet points to make her/him think that you listened just enough to get a passing grade … and that seems like enough.

Instead of this practice alone, we need to learn, implement and practice DEEP LISTENING, which connects via the heart. Trust me, this isn’t “soft” by any means. It takes real commitment, persistence and dedication. It takes an understanding of ourselves—our biases, frame of mind in the moment—and it takes our willingness to suspend ourselves in order to be fully and deeply present and receptive to the essence of the other and his/her message.

In my experience, active listening is more of a brain exercise and deep listening is a heart exercise. We can no longer cut off the heart and allow the brain to be the sole mechanism for which we travel through life.

Deep listening allows us to phenomenally connect—not role to role (a consultant connecting to a client or a mother connecting to a child) but soul to soul (Sonia Choquette) as a human being. I’m not talking to you, I’m talking with you and sharing the experience of what the words really mean as well as what is behind or underneath the words. Listening from the heart originates in and further breeds non-judgement, compassion, and truly seeing the other person as well as hearing them.

Here are four steps to become a deep listener:

  1. Deepen your self-awareness.
  2. Be fully present. Know your distractors and remove them from the situation.
  3. Use breath to prepare you to connect. When you breathe deeply, your central nervous system calms, creating more clarity and focus.
  4. If you start to feel yourself floating out of presence, remember that the words are coming from the other person’s heart, and to accept them with your heart.
  5. Practice curiosity.
  6. Stick with it. Think of deep listening like a muscle that needs to be built over time. The more you flex, the stronger you will get.

The result of deep listening is the apex of human connection and love (again, this is not Kumbaya stuff). It’s living from the inside out© — allowing your heart to be the driver for improved quality of relationships, leadership and abundance (far beyond financial). Allow the brain to be in service to the heart and watch your life change for the better.