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Practical Listening - 3 Steps for listening with purpose

Practical Listening is an outcome-focussed method for listening that holds the end user of the content at its centre. In the previous article, I spoke about the shortcomings of Active Listening (focussed on speaker only, rather than the broader context and useful outcomes). Practical Listening is all about getting the most out of the information you receive, for the people it matters to.

There are three steps to Practical Listening: Intention, Attention and Retention. Let's spend a moment exploring each of these elements.


Setting an intention is the first step and foundation of Practical Listening. Before entering a listening interaction, e.g. attending a conference, take a moment to consider who you are listening for. Who is the end user/s or beneficiary/ies of the information? What's important to them?

Let's take a health conference for example. If you're attending as a representative from a community health organisation, your end user/s and what's important to them will be different from those attending as a representative from the government, and different again from a business owner or seller of health products. You may be listening for yourself, your team, your boss, your client, a specific community, the general public (to name a few)… or any combination.

In addition to the who, you also need to consider how the information is being used. Is it to inform plans or policies? To educate on a specific subject? To share someone's story?

We use these considerations to inform what "lenses" we use to filter information while listening.


The lenses you identify while setting your intention inform what information you prioritise and focus on while listening. Attention also means tuning into the speaker's style, listening for clues like tone, emphasis, repetition and reaction for what's important, and finding connections between ideas.


Retention is all about how you capture information in a useful way, informed by both your Intention and Attention. This could be through the use of templates, models, timelines, metaphors, colour chunking, storyboards, lists, pictures… Whatever is going to serve your purpose best.

The more you can practise these three steps, the more finely tuned your listening skills will become, and the easier you will find it to recalibrate for different situations.

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