Optimizing Relationships ~ deepen & strengthen your relationship
Optimizing Relationships ~ deepen & strengthen your relationship

Speaking / Workplace

I speak about transformational listening and do personal coaching on this topic as well. If your organization is interested in having me train your employees to listen more effectively (improving sales, customer service, and workplace relationships) just drop me an email - sarah at sarahmark dot com.

Transformational listening is listening that is 100% focused, intentional, and involves being fully present in the moment. There is a lot that goes into this kind of listening, but the effort is worth it. Learning to become this kind of listener means you will inevitably impact those around you as well - and in this way your corner of the world will experience communicative transformation.


Recent testimony:

"I found Sarah Mark's presentation on transformation listening to be very imformative, applicable in many life situations, and reassuring that we are able to change some of our learned behaviors.
Transformational listening is a change in mindset. It is learning and understanding why and how we listen in the ways we do. As Sarah presented, once we understand those shortcomings, there are different approaches and techniques for improving our listening behaviors. I learned how these changes in listening can help in our relationships with co-workers, our spouses, and our children. I enjoyed the presentation so much that I attended it a second time to reinforce what I learned. I found it to be very self-rewarding."
Jody Heath
Staffing Solutions Vice President, Service
Manpower, Inc. of SE Michigan


Another area...
I also teach a class at a local college that is all about listening behavior. Students often say they take it because they think it’s a blow-off class. Little do they know, if they’re willing, their lives will dramatically change for the better – if they work and apply what they’re learning, they will inevitably grow.


How does this work?
I begin by asking students to think about what they could improve on listening-wise. This requires them asking the people around them who know and love them about their listening, and these people will be honest. I give them about a week to have these conversations, and then they set goals based on what they found.
This is a time of humility, reflection and self-discovery for most students – they didn’t realize for instance, that they constantly interrupt and that drives people crazy, or people are sick of repeating themselves because they are not being listened to, or staring at your phone during conversations (especially in certain contexts) is considered rude, even if everyone does it…

Why? I know how to listen…
I hear this a lot, but the fact is, for most of the people I meet, it just isn’t true. There are those rare people that are just born excellent, empathetic listeners – we all have someone who comes to mind that is naturally this way. But this is rare – especially in today’s world. And if you think about it, most people do not receive any instruction on communication itself and the importance of understanding it fully, using it appropriately, and how much it can enhance or tear down any relationship.


What do I do?
Over a semester I take students through a series of real-life listening applications - they go out into their worlds and wait for a specific situation to happen (or sometimes create it), and then practice something specific we are working on in class (conflict, empathy, relationships, family relationships, workplace, other cultures and beliefs, and many more).
These “take-homes” are the reason students change – because they learn and change when they are the ones putting in the effort and taking the time. They go from self-centered to other-oriented, from someone who always has to be heard to someone who values listening more than speaking, and from someone who thought they would never be able to stop interrupting or “tuning out,” to someone who is annoyed when their friends do this to them.
Just a note: I am not saying all students are like this (some are already other-oriented, for instance, but still can improve their listening habits) – but a lot of students I’ve met, initially are. It’s the world they grew up in – phone-centric, the world of selfies, Facebook, helicopter parents, constant rewards (sometimes equals lack of self-motivation), etc. 


Below are some testimonies from these students (used with their permission, names changed) – it is because of them and all they have taught me that I am doing more with this. I believe it is my responsibility to teach what I know, and change peoples’ lives for the better.

Testimonies – excerpts of students’ essays reflecting on how they have grown as listeners and people

Sylvia… “I think that my listening skills have increased greatly. I really think that my goals were met and I have a better understanding on what type of person I am. Since I have stop interrupting completely, I’ve been having better conversation and no arguments.  For example, the past couple of months my husband and I made it our goal to not argue and listen to one another without interrupting. We have been talking more and even if we don’t agree with one another, we find a way to make it so that we both are happy. It makes me feels so much better that I can have a conversation with him now without the yelling, interrupting, or ignoring the situation all together. Listening is the key factor in our relationship because we both didn’t listen.”

(This student wrote to me and said this class quite literally saved her marriage - she also shared this in class the last day and made us all teary!)

Carl… "To me just the fact that I would catch myself focusing on being a better listener these past four months was kind of exciting.  I’m 33 years old and in my entire life I had never done this.  I never knew I needed to until what I learned in this class was happening in my everyday life.  I don’t think I was ever told I was a bad listener, but I really did have some bad listening habits that I never paid attention to.  On the flip side to this revelation, I easily pick out bad listening habits in other people.  Especially when I am talking to them.  At first it bugs me, but then I realize they probably are just unaware as I was and are not intentionally trying showing bad listening behavior. “
Alton… “Though I felt that I already knew a decent amount about communication prior to this class, over the course of the semester, I learned that I really only knew how to communicate using my own words.  By this, I mean that I didn’t quite know how to be on the receiving end of an interaction, in other words, listening.  Like many people, I would participate in an interaction, always eager to say what I wanted to say, and would mostly just give people my attention when the topic of conversation interested me, or when I had something that I wished to say… In regards to contemptuous listening, listening to someone with contempt and bias for them or their words and ideas is not only detrimental to a relationship; it also reinforces a bad habit.  If you listen to anyone with contempt, you begin to convince yourself of the idea that you are right, and they are wrong, and this is devastating to being able to truly listen and understand another’s viewpoint.”  

Samantha… “I actually feel that I have fully met all my listening goals, as I was conscious to do so from the start and gauged my ‘listening progress’ throughout the semester. My interrupting has decreased significantly, and I hardly allow myself to get distracted anymore by my phone while with others… I am much more patient and allow the other person to speak and finish their entire train of thought before speaking, and don’t give any more unsolicited advice or interrupt, proposing solutions to others’ problems. I have noticed that whoever I am speaking to reciprocates good listening behavior towards me, when I make conscious efforts to be a good listener with them. I have also stopped repeating myself as much, and condense my thoughts in a clear and succinct manner, so as not to flood the other person with a bombardment of words.”

Tatiana... "I really felt I meant my goals this semester that I wanted to achieve as a listener and friend. I feel now that I can see myself doing it and I actually spent the three months reflecting on those three main goals that defined me... To be honest, I can't believe I would cut people off while speaking, use distractions when listening was boring, and be so judgmental about certain things. I feel like a new me and it's rather weird. I even ran into an ex who was like, "WOW when did you start actually listening before handing it to someone." This made me feel good that people are noticing a change. For me before, change was never an option. But I see what it's doing with my relationships and I can't say that I am not happy for what's to come."
 (This student became a much better manager, and her employees actually began to like her)
Adrian… “Coming into this class I didn’t think I was a bad listener at all but from talking to others about my listening, observing myself and thinking of ways I can improve as a listener has opened my eyes to the importance of being a good listener. I think it was really nice just to have a class about listening and getting to apply it to my life has really been a great thing for me, and a lot of the things I learned in this class I actually shared with others.”
Scott… “This class really asks the question of what is important in this world. If we need communication to exist as healthy individuals I think it is important that we are sort of good at it. There has been documented cases where children that go without communication have issues adapting to society. This same concept can apply to a new world to where listening is more important than ever with the emergence of technology.”

(This student is becoming an English teacher and through this class, realized the importance of truly listening to children and teaching them good listening as well – including his own kids – so his teaching philosophy was impacted. He will make a huge difference in the world.)



Transformational Listening

Recent location of Couples Workshop in Ann Arbor, Michigan (Hathaway's Hideaway)
Recent location of Couples Workshop (just outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan)