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3 Things We Hear With Our Third Ear

Achim Nowak

Come meet my friend, Achim Nowak. We shared many a lunch at Wisdom 2.0 in San Francisco. I asked him to share a thought about deep listening as a way to become more adaptable. After all, that is a critical resiliency skill. We need to hear more than just words. I hope you enjoy!

3 Things We Hear With Our Third Ear

I have always loved the notion of a Third Eye.

According to chakra symbology, the Third Eye sits right in the center of our forehead. Smack above our eyebrows. It is the place in our body that links to our intuition. It’s also the pathway to any psychic powers we may possess. Cool. But a Third Ear? What the heck is that? Joyce F. Brown is the president of the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, one of the preeminent US breeding grounds for future fashionistas. Ms. Brown is also a psychologist. When she was asked what helps her to be a successful leader, Ms. Brown replied with little hesitation: I am convinced that I have a third ear. (New York Times, Business Section, 7/21/2013)

The third ear, according to Brown,is the ear that hears the nuances. Love that. And the moment I read those two word –third ear–I think of the various nuances we hear with our third ear:

Nuance IN the spoken word

A few months ago I was settling into a seat on Virgin Air, getting situated for a flight to San Francisco. A fellow strolls by, stops, glances at the seat next to mine and then announces:We’re neighboring.

Wow, I think to myself, what an exquisite phrase that is. Neighboring. A phrase full of nuance and surprise. We quickly engage. My chat with Mark turns out to be, hands-down, the most enriching chat I have ever had with anyone on a plane. It began with a nuanced word.

Nuance IN what isn’t said

You have had this conversation, right? Your boss offers you a compliment, and she offers it with a good deal of zest: You did a fine job with this report! Nice, until we hear the words that weren’t said. It wasn’t You did a superb job! It wasn’t You did an outstanding job!

Now, your boss may not be the sort of person that volunteers extravagant praise. I don’t propose we second-guess her. But make sure your third ear hears the praise for what it is, not for what you desire it to be. And if you’re the boss who wishes to offer extravagant praise, make sure your choice of language reflects your intent.

Nuance BENEATH the spoken word

In the early 90s I was trained at the Brooklyn Courts to become a mediator. I value this training more than my Organizational Psychology degree or most other formal learning opportunities I’ve had.

The crux of what I learned: In any remotely difficult conversation, certain core emotions are likely bubbling below the surface. Anger. Frustration. Sadness. Regret. Sometimes these emotions are explicitly expressed through words. Most of the time they are contained. They are always the real language behind the conversations. Want to positively shape a conversation? Activate your third ear. Hear the emotion that is covered up.

A little paradox: In a world where events unfold at lightning speed, it is easy to miss the nuances. And yet, in this rapid-fire world, our ability to be resilient has quickly become the ultimate personal-success-currency. Resilient behavior is at its finest when you and I listen with our Third Ear. Notice the nuances, consider them, celebrate them. When we do, we acknowledge the complexity of life AND we make smarter choices. We invoke greater success. How very cool is that!

Achim Nowak C-Suite Coach, International Authority on Presence and Personal Impact, Author of The Moment, Infectious, and Power Speaking (

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