Now you can learn to hear hidden messages using Interpretive Listening

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Now you can learn to hear hidden messages using Interpretive Listening.

There is a listening one, two punch for aspiring recruiters. 

You have already learned the first punch. We call it Reflective Listening. 

In the last section, Reflective Listening was the only tool we used. But in real life, you will often use all Five Listening Skills. 

Reflective Listening is helpful at the beginning of a conversation because it helps you and your friend to relax. 

Reflective Listening slows you down and helps you release your agenda. It also helps you demonstrate to your friend that they are more important than your getting another sale. 

Reflective Listening also helps your friend hear themselves and even clarify their comments. 

But if you use Reflective Listening too much it will get weird. 

You still need to learn more about what your friend is thinking and what may motivate their decision to join you as a customer or distributor. So, you use Reflective Listening’s partner, Interpretive Listening. 

Interpretive Listening will help you begin the process of hearing what your friend is thinking. 

Female college friends talking on campus

You know that communication is much more than words. You learn what is being communicated by body language and tone of voice as well as the spoken words. 

You are not only learning but if you use Interpretive Listening well, your friend will more clearly understand what she is thinking. She will also learn how she sounds to others. 

As this happens you are opening the door to true communication. 

You are further releasing the agenda you may have – the agenda that will not serve you well. 

So how do you use Interpretive Listening? 

With Interpretive Listening, you are listening for feelings and hidden messages in what is being said. 


Suppose you are having coffee with your sister and she says. 

Ugg, it’s bill paying time again. I wish John would help me. 

What feelings might you hear in a statement like this? 

Is there a hidden message? 

In a conversation, you would have body language and tone of voice to help but it seems likely that the feelings might be a dread or helplessness. Or there might be a hidden message of frustration that her husband doesn’t help with a mundane job. 

How will you respond? 

Would you agree that there must be something more that your sister wants to communicate? Generally, we don’t talk about money even with family. It seems that there must be something really bothering your sister. 

But if you assume that you know what she means you might get it wrong. In my experience, we more often than not get it wrong. You need more information. 

Of course, you could ask the obvious question, “What do you mean?” How likely is she to answer you? How likely is she to deflect your question and change the subject? 

Even if you think that she might be expressing a reason to join you in your company, you need to learn more. And maybe your sister needs you to listen as she talks about a frustration or fear in her life. 

Based upon hints you receive from body language and tone of voice, you must decide what feeling is being expressed or if there is a hidden message expressed. 

The feeling could be a dread of paying bills because of a hidden message that she has more bills than money. 

You can explore all possibilities with Interpretive Listening which uses lead in phrases like: 

  • It sounds like . . . 
  • It seems . . .
  • I get the sense . . . 
  • I seems to me . . . 
  • It sounds as though . . . 

It is important to use a tentative voice.

After all, you don’t know for sure. You are testing your tentative understanding of what has been said. 

Two cheerful women drinking coffee and talking in cafe

You could reply with feeling words: 

It sounds like you really dread paying bills. 


It seems to me that you hate bill paying. 

You have used a tentative voice when you say one of these and then you wait. Your sister might respond. 

Yes, I do dread the bills. I must be sure that we still have money left for gas and groceries. 


I am so tired of doing it by myself. John just sits and watches his ball game. 

As you can see there is the possibility that you could get two different responses. The first one is a feeling. The second is a hidden message. 

At this point, you should be glad you didn’t jump to a conclusion. 

But you would not leave the conversation here. You might respond with one more Interpretive Listening statement. 

For instance, for the first response. You could say, again with a tentative voice: 

It seems as though you are feeling a little desperate. 

This gives your sister the opportunity to freely talk about what she has kept to herself.  You let her take the conversation where she wants. But you will continue using the other three listening skills so that you fully grasp what she wants to tell you. 

Of course, your sister may just be tired of paying bills without her husband’s help. 

The conversation might go like this after you have said, 

You: It seems to me like you hate paying the bills.

Your Sister: You bet I do. I process accounts payable at work all day. I want to watch the Food Channel while John pays the bills for once.

Your conversation will go in a different direction, won’t it? Again, aren’t you glad for that one Interpretive Listening skill that clarified what she said? 

Maybe this conversation won’t end in your suggesting that she consider joining you in your business. But with the Five ListeningSkills, you will be equipped to listen while she talks through her frustration and looks for a solution to her problem. 

Above all, you need to believe that she is the one who can find the best solution to her problem. People like to be listened to but seldom like to be told what to do.

To recap Interpretive Listening: 

You hear what may be a feeling or a hidden message. 

You use a tentative voice and check out your perception with a statement that starts with: 

  • It sounds like . . . 
  • It seems . . . 
  • I get the sense . . . 
  • I seems to me . . . 
  • It sounds as though . . . 

One or two Interpretive Listening statements will be all you’ll need before moving on with the conversation. 

Here are the benefits of Interpretive Listening: 

  • Helps your friend communicate their feelings. 
  • Helps your friend clarify what they are feeling and thinking. 
  • Allows you to check out if you are hearing the other person correctly. 
  • Enables you to release your agenda and focus on what the other person wants. 


Interpretive Listening may be difficult because: 

  • We aren’t used to freely expressing feelings. 
  • We may have a limited feeling vocabulary. 
  • You may feel uncomfortable “prying” into others’ feelings. 
  • You haven’t released your agenda and are trying to steer the conversation so that you can share your message. 

Practice makes good; more practice makes better. 

Interpretive ListeningPractice Exercises: 

For each statement list several possible feelings that are being expressed and any hidden message that you have heard. For each statement, there may be more than one way to respond. Write out as many as you can. Also, write out how you might be tempted to answer if you haven’t released your agenda. 

  1. Ugg, it’s bill paying time again. I wish John would help me. 
  2. Can you believe another year is almost over? The years keep passing and I am still in the same job! 
  3. Have you seen Zoe? She looks great. I could never lose weight like that. 
  4. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love my job, it’s just that I haven’t had a real vacation in years. 
  5. My birthday is next week! I was sure I’d have my own business by now. 
  6. My boss is impossible. She expects me to be on call twenty-four, seven. 
  7. Josh and Sophie are doing a Mediterranean cruise, can you believe that? 
  8. I am sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. 
  9. If I hear one more person talk about how they lost weight I am going to scream. 
  10. I wonder how the next door neighbors can afford a new car every year. 

Interpretive Listening practice is work. Can you imagine how hard it would be to use without practice? So, spend time working on these to get good at Interpretive Listening. 

And use Interpretive Listening in real life to practice. We all should be listening to the people in our lives, shouldn’t we? 

The next of the Five Listening Skills comes easier to most people and we are tempted to skip to it before we have properly Reflected and Interpreted what we are hearing. 

Before we move on can you see how these two skills will help you release your agenda? 

As you do release your agenda, you gain greater freedom to listen and learn. And then you are ready to get serious with Helpful Questions. Then you will begin to learn if the person you are listening to is someone you want to join your business, what their why is and if the timing is right for them. 

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