“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” ―Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

Deliberately cultivating the intent to understand rather than to reply is the key to effective listening. This is an appealing thought, but what does it mean, really? And how do you go about developing this uncommon ability.

One difference between the two is that the intent to reply only leads you to hear what you want to hear, while the intent to understand allows you to hear what you need to hear. A second difference is that you are much less likely to interrupt or talk over another if you are truly listening with the intent to understand. When you listen with the intent to reply you’ll find it hard to hear anything beyond the point at which you agree or disagree, as the case may be.

But rather than bore you with clichés about the importance of listening, I would like to suggest to you that the ability to listen with the intent to understand is more about your relationship with truth than it is with your fellow human beings. The truth of the matter, of any matter, transcends human opinion. As such, when you listen to others, you should be more concerned with how what they are saying squares with truth than you are with how what they are saying jibes with your speculative theories on truth, life or love.

All human conflict and misery springs from the failure to orient in love and the subsequent inability to find agreement in truth. The world we have is more the product of retorts and ripostes – the unfortunate by-products of the intent to reply – than it is of the intent to understand. Change this one point of misaligned intent in yourself…and you will change the world.

6 thoughts on “Intent

  1. Isabelle

    This is such a wonderful topic and I particularly appreciated the emphasis on a centering in the truth. Once that is set, then listening and speaking are automatically in balance.


  2. Joshua

    I would suppose that aligning with the intent to understand would come, the expression of original thought, allowing one, to not only see to the core of the matter, but thoughtfully and compassionately bring resolution.
    Having experienced a mixture, I whole heartedly agree, there is a need for good listeners, and I would like to be one.
    Thanks Gregg.


  3. Lady Leo

    Orienting in love requires we listen to our higher nature. To develop that relationship, it supersedes listening to anything else; examples might be, what we want to hear, what makes us feel better, what agrees with our view, people who make us feel how we want to feel; the list could go on forever. If we look just to feel good about ourselves or even just comforted we never will orient in love as that will usually include rebuke, repentance and ultimately,change.


  4. Steve V

    This is such a vital point that thrills my heart to clearly acknowledge. It serves as a simplified and expansively profound foundation upon which to make our lives worthwhile. If we think about the word understand in essence it points to seeing what is under the surface of what is being considered whether it be a person or thing. In relationship to a person looking to see what is under or behind what person may be saying plays a large part in understanding and relating to them. Again looking upon the heart of an individual gives further understanding for listening and relating. I am further intrigued to explore how the intent to understand relates to more than just people. This awareness makes me think of the known great inventors and innovators who were also so inspired. Your post today surely brings greater newness. Thank you for providing a place to share a wavelength of invigorating life!


  5. David R

    This is such a vital area of consideration. Watching legal dramas on TV one realizes how little the truth has come to matter, and those involved in legal disputes are certainly intent listeners, but for what? – for strategic loopholes and advantages regardless of elements of truth that are routinely, even gleefully, ignored!

    The courage and the delight to follow the truth without compromise, to find origins, to dispel illusion – these are conditions of the heart of one who brings the light of reality into the dismal and convoluted pathways of the world as it has become.


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