How to make people smarter

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It’s true. This is possible. I’ve seen it happen. You can actually make people smarter by doing one simple thing during any given conversation.

It has to do with listening…

When we’re listening to the other person talk, there’s a couple ways we typically do it.

For one, we listen to affirm. We force the ‘good listener’ role. We lean forward, gaze deep into their eyes, constantly nod, and throw in verbal affirmations that we hear them, we understand them, we love them, and we agree. But like I said, it’s a forced way of listening. And, as positive as it seems, we typically have an agenda behind it. We want them to see how good of a listener we are. And we want them to approve of us. (Or maybe even do something for us.)

Then there’s the second way we typically listen to people. This is the ‘listening to negate’ method of listening where we can’t wait until they’re done talking so we can come back at them with some brilliant argument. As they’re speaking, we fold our arms, squint our eyes, and smirk. We can’t wait until they’re done talking so we can unleash our reckoning on them. Or at least a passive-aggressive retort.

And then, there’s the third way of listening (as I say, there’s always a third way).

This is where we… just listen. Michael Neill calls it listening like a rock with ears. Or listening like a video camera. It’s where we listen from a place of neutral presence. We haven’t taken a hard side. We’re open to new information coming from them and insight coming through that quiet space within us. We’re just fully there in the moment with them.

Listening from a place of neutral presence (without trying to negate or affirm) makes the person who’s talking smarter.

Try it on for size. Then next time you’re chatting with a friend, be neutral. Be present. Just listen. Not with an agenda to either negate (I can’t wait until they’re done talking so I can come back at them with…) or affirm (I need to show them I’m listening so they’re nice to me and maybe even do something awesome for me…).

Either way makes people feel weird and insecure. And we humans are stupid when we feel weird and insecure.

But when we’re in that still place, we give them room to relax into their innate well-being. And when they can do that, they can’t help but be smarter in your presence.


May the words of others land on fully present but neutral ears. May you sit in front of them with no forced intention to negate them or affirm them, but instead, just… listen. May you be centered and open to the words coming from each other’s mouths and also the source of all life that lies beneath them knowing that good conversation emerges from that space. And as they speak to this space, may they see in your eyes the infinite intelligence that lies in them.