Deep Listening Starts Here - Exponent Philanthropy
A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Deep Listening Starts Here

Listening. It’s a skill we’ve been talking about a lot here at Exponent Philanthropy.


First, because we believe that listening is an essential skill for effective philanthropy. When—and only when—we listen deeply and humbly to those we serve, can we learn about their true needs and how we can partner most effectively to create meaningful change.

And second, because most people (grantmakers not excluded) are not as good at listening as we’d like to think. Listening deeply to another person takes real focus and attention, and our multitasking brains and fast-paced environments present endless distractions that make it hard for us to really tune in to what someone is saying.

At Exponent Philanthropy, we’re committed to closing this skill gap and helping our members become better listeners. At our CONNECT conference in October, we’re offering a Listening Workshop that will help attendees learn, practice, and apply deep listening skills.

Jen Lachman, co-facilitator of the CONNECT Listening Workshop, offers some suggestions for how you can deepen your listening.

Good listening starts with your mindset

The thoughts and beliefs that you carry into a conversation, and those that arise throughout, are the greatest indicator of how well you will be able to deeply listen to another person. Becoming a better listener takes a certain skillset, for sure, (we’ll cover those skills in a later post), but first and foremost effective listening takes a certain way of being in the conversation.

Are you committed to listening to your community partners, co-workers, friends, and family in a deeper and more powerful way? Next time you have a conversation with one of these people, consider the Deep Listening “To Be” List below.

Be curious

What are you truly curious to uncover about this person, and his or her unique perspective? When you come to a conversation seeking to understand things in a new way, and can recognize that your vantage point only offers one way of seeing a situation, you’re able to tune in much more intently.

Take your grantees as an example here. What ideas, perspectives, and stories are you curious to hear them share with you? The enemy of curiosity is judgment, so watch when your mind starts to critique or question, and reconnect to your desire to tune in and gain new insight from this person.

Be humble

Many of us feel most comfortable entering a conversation with a certain level of confidence about the topic at hand and our ability to offer value to the discussion. So while it may be uncomfortable, when you can let go of your desire to advise, drive, and direct a conversation, you make space for others to speak—and you can focus on listening.

Next time you notice yourself wanting to offer advice in a conversation, what if you asked a question instead? When you allow your humility to lead, you will be able to listen to others in a much more powerful way.

Be present

Deep listening requires you to be fully present in the current moment. Often we enter conversations with a million other thoughts swirling around in our heads. Before a conversation where you’re committed to deep listening, take a few minutes ahead of time to slow down and transition. And during the conversation, know that your mind will wonder 10 …100 …1,000 times, and, when it does, tune right back in to the person who is speaking.

What else would you add to this list?

Henry BermanHenry Berman became Exponent Philanthropy’s CEO in 2011, previously serving as acting CEO, board member, and committee member. Through his experience as a foundation co-trustee and Exponent Philanthropy member since 2003, he brings a firsthand understanding of the needs of members to his role.

jen-lachmanJen Lachman is an executive coach who supports mission-driven leaders and organizations to act with greater purpose, authenticity, and impact. You can sign up to receive her free emails and learn how you can become a stronger and more effective philanthropic leader.


  1. Dear Henry,
    I always enjoy your writing and open attitude to learning and sharing knowledge. Personally, I would add “Empathy” to this list. When you genuinely care how it impacts another, your body language and attitude create genuine and open dialogue to support another.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *