Guitarist Steve Morse on Listening

WRITTEN November 3, 2016 Author: Rich Atkins

Listening Is a Lot of Detective Work

Steve Morse is a guitarist best known as the founder of the Dixie Dregs; and since 1994, the guitar player of Deep Purple. He was briefly a member of Kansas in the mid 1980s. Morse’s career has encompassed rock, country, funk, jazz, classical, and fusion of these musical genres.

steve-morse1The biggest part of listening is trying to divine what the person wants. They don’t always say it or give you all the clues with their words. I listen to get to what they want. Listening in my case is a lot of detective work.

Audience Awareness

I rely on body language a lot. When I come up with an idea and play it, I look at the reaction. If it is instantly negative – a furled brow or any facial expression that’s not a smile, not genuine excitement – then I go back quickly and try Plan B.

The most important thing is expression. When I’m doing a solo, I prefer to have people around. If you play something and there’s no reaction, there’s your answer. If nobody says anything, then try again. You don’t need words at that point.

Je Ne Sais Quois

Let’s say you’re dealing with somebody who is saying “I don’t know, I just need some more ____”   and whatever word they’re using doesn’t help! In the end, what is going to help is the way that they say it, and the emotion that they want you to feel from it. When people give you a short phrase or one-syllable answer to something that involves a huge amount of complex work, all you can do is do some detective work. Get some examples and then question the examples. Try to find a commonality. The more examples you get, the more you can try to divine what they’re talking about.

Listening Roadblocks

Texting comes to mind. People are distracted by what they’re thinking about. Not having somebody’s complete attention and time to absorb what you’re doing is a big roadblock.

How To Become a Better Listener

Stop talking! Seriously. It’s very hard to do for a lot of people. I’m as guilty as anybody. The more you stop talking, the more you’ll learn about the other person and what they want. Also, make eye contact and observe. Notice what the body language is, especially when it accompanies what they’re really interested in.

As a commercial pilot, I study NTSB reports of accidents that have happened from failed communications. I’ve seen procedural errors constantly.

Pilots can’t use dialect, colloquial expressions, or speak with very much of an accent. You’ve got to try to go the most basic common denominator.

It’s the same thing with real life – listen first. When a pilot goes to a frequency, they shouldn’t just start talking, although many do. Some pilots will switch to a frequency and ststevemorse2art blabbing away right on top of somebody. What happens then is they can’t hear, because they didn’t listen. Take the time to listen for 15 seconds, they will hear that the controller just asked somebody to change heading and altitude, and he’s waiting for the response. If the new pilot talks during that response time, it forces the controller to repeat everything. Then every other request that he had lined up has to wait. On an aircraft control frequency, they have to get in line and wait to be helpful.

Another thing is to be brief. If you’ve got a long request, you say to the controller “This is 45 Zulu – Request.”  You don’t even say your full number. You just say the last three alphanumeric of your call sign, to keep it brief.  When the controller gets time, he’ll say, “Okay 45 Zulu, what your request?” That always works the best, rather than spewing right off the bat.

Anything Else?

When people are talking equally in a conversation, 50% each on average, they perceive the other person as talking more like 75% of the time. In other words, if you think you are exceptionally attentive and not talking so much, chances are good that you are approaching the 50%.

People who speak less are perceived as better listeners, simply because they’re not talking all the time. They’re perceived as more interesting to talk to by other people.

Photo courtesy of Stephan Birlouez

This information is from the Improving Customer Service class. If you’re looking for ways to improve your communication skills, register for one of the public classes listed in the right column of this email, or bring Improving Communications training to your place of business for onsite sessions. Click the titles for more information.

Other Listening Articles:


Nick Beggs — Listening Means Understanding Relationships – IC Interview

Kasim Sulton: One Word — Focus – IC Interview

Arnold McCuller — Listening for the Spirit – IC Interview

Jordan Rudess — Listening with Focus – IC Interview

Rod Morgenstein — Listening: One Cohesive Unit – IC Interview

Musician Carl Palmer on Listening – IC Interview

Simon Phillips — Listening Outside Yourself – IC Interview

Nick Beggs — Listening means Understanding Relationships – IC Interview

Pat Mastelotto— Listening Requires Concentration – IC Interview

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