What the Deaf Can Teach Us About Listening

Lessons of Silence

Bruno Kahne, a corporate consultant for the aeronautical industry, shares how deaf people helped his corporate clients be effective communicators. His article appears on the website of the strategy+business magazine, published by management consulting firm Booz & Company. See full article or PDF file. Below is a summary of the article.

Through their “handicap,” deaf people develop certain communication skills more thoroughly than most hearing people, which make them uncommonly effective at getting their point across. When they interact with one another, deaf people act in ways that let them communicate more rapidly and accurately than hearing people.

To improve your “hearing,” consider some of these lessons from our experiences and training sessions.

  1. Effective Communication » Paying Attention Do not take notes. You will be more present in the interaction and you can concentrate more. And the more you do it, the better you remember.
  2. Don’t interrupt. A deaf person ensures that he or she first understands the other speaker before trying to be understood. Try this the next time you’re in a business discussion, ideally one in which there’s some tension — let the other person finish what he or she has to say, then silently count to three before responding.
  3. Say what you mean, as simply as possible. Deaf people are direct. They reveal not only their thoughts, but also their feelings, both positive and negative, more clearly than hearing people do, as they express them with their whole bodies. Similarly, the deaf are often far better than hearing people at finding the most economical way to convey their message.
  4. When you don’t understand something, ask. Deaf people feel completely at ease saying “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand.” Those of us with hearing aren’t nearly as willing to admit confusion or lack of comprehension. We often sit silently in meetings while our colleagues use acronyms or technical jargon we don’t grasp because we think asking for clarification is a sign of weakness.
  5. Stay focused. The deaf cut themselves off from any distractions, they don’t multitask, and they focus their attention entirely on the conversation.

Overall, the most inspiring thing about communication with deaf people — and the behavior most worth emulating — is their incredibly strong desire to exchange information efficiently and without adornment.

Call for Action

Effective Communication » Listening All of the suggestions in the article are trite and obvious. When I discuss such desired behaviors in my seminars or during one-on-one coaching sessions, I can sense my audience negligently declaring, “I know that.” My response is usually along the lines of “Sure, you know that. And, tell me how and where do you apply these ideas in your everyday interactions?”

Most of the articles I write on this blog are about simple ideas. I hope my articles serve as a reminder of key principles and help you tune-up your communications and behaviors. As you read through my articles, instead of declaring, “I know that,” ask, “How do/can I apply these principles in my everyday interactions?” Take responsibility for the effectiveness of your communications and your ability to influence and get the results you desire.

***Via ‘I can see what they’re saying,’ Doc Searls at Harvard


  1. Kahne says

    After 7 years of research and writing a book on this topic is now available on Amazon. The title is “Deaf Tips, Powerful Communication.” I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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