The Coach's Corner

Listen First

The Coach’s Corner Newsletter #47

Just before game 5 of the NBA playoff series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets, starting point guard Jamal Murray came in a little early to see if he was going to play, after suffering a calf strain in game 4 of the series.

And they just didn’t want me to risk it. They told me no. They told me no. And I didn’t say no. I just didn’t want to leave my teammates out there. We’ve been battling all season. Everybody’s hurt at some point. Everybody’s going through something. And I just wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I wasn’t about to play this game.

We’re told there was an emotional exchange between Murray, Denver Nuggets Head Coach Michael Malone and Steve Short, the team VP of sports medicine.

They listened, questioned, aired concerns and in the end, allowed Murray to play. He did not disappoint. Murray scored 32 points and made the game winner with 3.6 seconds left Monday night to cap a 108-106 win over the Lakers.

I’m just glad they listened to me. They listened to me listening to my body.

The Nuggets face the Minnesota Timberwolves in the second round.

Reading Murray’s words, “I’m just glad they listened to me,” reminds me how powerful it feels to be heard. When you enter a conversation with your mind already made up, it’s hard to hear what the other has to say. What would happen if you began by listening first…and then discovering what unfolds?


Listen first

I’m sure you’re familiar with the expression: You have two ears and one mouth and it’s best to use them in that proportion.

So often our mouths get in the way. Think back to the last meeting you attended and how these three scenarios might have shown up:

  1. Someone takes over the conversation, consuming time that could easily be shared by others on the team.
  2. You boldly enter the discussion only to be interrupted mid-sentence by someone who disagrees with your idea or wants to offer a ‘better’ solution.
  3. You’re the one who’s leading, telling, sharing – without asking questions and hearing what others might have to offer.

Listening is a key communication technique that allows me to hear someone, empathize with their situation, ask powerful questions to get to that thing under the thing and then offer the space for that someone to discover what they want to do next.

When you jump into a conversation with an agenda, knowing the ‘only’ way to do something, interrupting to get your point across and rarely asking questions to understand, people leave feeling neglected or dismissed.

What happens when you feel heard?

Here’s what I experience: I feel valued. I was vulnerable enough to share something significant, and you acknowledged me by hearing me out.

Whether as a leader, a team member, a parent, a teacher or the best barista on the planet, consider what might happen if you hear what others want to share BEFORE you speak.


How to hear what others have to say

Since listening has been such a big part of my career journey from broadcast journalism to coaching – I’d like to share how this communication technique has become a leading strength in my work and life. There are times when I fail miserably, and then I have to get up and remember…it begins with listening.

  1. Listen first

– Hear what someone says, not what you want to say. Repeat the gist of what someone is saying to you so that you stay focused.

  1. Don’t interrupt

-When you interrupt, you bring what you think to the forefront and may miss out on what someone wants to share.

  1. Show you’re listening

-Feel free to involve silence, eye contact, nod your head or utter a soft ‘hmmm.’

  1. Ask questions

-Use open ended, how/what/where, questions to demonstrate you’re listening and want more clarity.

  1. Reflect what you hear

-Without parroting the conversation, highlight some key areas you’ve heard to show you understand what someone is sharing with you.

My takeaway

You know what’s funny about listening? There are times when you may NOT get a word in edgewise in a conversation! This happens when someone has been so hungry to share, and be heard without judgment, that the words don’t stop flowing.

In those moments when you allow the other person to speak without adding your thoughts, you are demonstrating signs of a strong leader. These kind of one-way conversations are often steps in your journey to lead your teams well, have challenging conversations at home, or even negotiate a deal. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to share you thoughts.

And who knows? By listening well you may give room for one of your team to hit the game winner.

God gave us mouths that close and ears that don’t… that should tell us something.

Eugene O’Neill


Table of Contents

Additional Articles

Clutter and your brain

The Coach’s Corner Newsletter #45 Clutter isn’t just one thing, it’s: A confused multitude of things, as defined by Clutter shows up in many

Read More »

In awe of the eclipse

The Coach’s Corner Newsletter #44 Sitting outside a Denver-area restaurant with my friend, Frances, on Monday we used our MedOptics glasses to view the partial

Read More »