According to Webster, "to intend" means to stretch out for, to aim at. An intent is a purpose, object or aim.

"Communicate" means to exchange information, ideas or messages in any way, as by talk, gestures, writing, etc. It also means to have a sympathetic or meaningful relationship and to be connected.

Intentional Communication, then, means aiming at connecting in a sympathetic or meaningful way to exchange information, messages or ideas.

It struck me like a thunderbolt to discover that the root of the word "listen" comes from Middle English, and means, "to merge." But the modern definition, according to Webster's, is "to make a conscious effort to hear; to attend closely."

Again, our friend Webster: "Conscious" means: "having a feeling or knowledge of one's own sensations, feelings, etc., or of external things; knowing or feeling; aware; cognizant. 2) able to feel and think in the normal waking state; 3) aware of oneself as a thinking being; knowing what one is doing and why.

When we look at the definition of "to hear," we find "to perceive or sense sounds, especially through stimulation of auditory nerves in the ear by so8und waves."

So, intentional listening: Being aware of myself as a thinking being, aiming myself at "merging" by perceiving or sensing what another is saying.

I don't know about you, but given the brief exploration in the dictionary, I don't see a whole lot of intentional listening in the world.

What if you could create that experience of connection…of merging…with anyone? Any time? Under any circumstances? I have no idea if that is even possible…but I live life each day aiming myself at that possibility. And here's what I find out:

Stuff just gets in the way of listening. What stuff? Mostly being aware of my own internal sensations, rather than being aware of or having feelings for external things…like the other person.

Yeah, the sound waves stimulate my auditory nerves, resulting in something called "hearing," but listening? It's the most difficult thing a human can do.

My friends, we as a species are in very deep weeds when it comes to listening. Each of us is a "closed loop," consisting of our own unique history, experience, vocabulary and coding/decoding system.

But -- keep the faith. There are footprints out there in the wilderness, and I am committed not only to following them, but to taking you with me. Here's what every listener needs to know in order to merge -- to have that awareness or feeling for external things (the other person), to create that sympathetic and meaningful relationship. Consider these five "musts" as the handrails that keep you on track as you learn to master intentional listening.

1. I must listen with a purpose.

What purpose, you ask? Well, how about adopting the purpose of connecting with the other person -- really finding out about their reality. I guarantee this is not always easy, nor is it always the first idea of purpose that pops into your head. Here's a little practice exercise to play with.

In your very next conversation, I'd like you to become aware of your internal monologue. Interrupt it, and ask yourself: "What's my purpose in listening right now?" Listen to what your internal voice says back. Don't be dismayed if the internal voice has some other, less than noble, purpose like: "My purpose right now is to get them to hurry up and stop talking," or "Right now, all I want is out of this conversation,?or "My only purpose in listening is so that I can show them how wrong they are when it's my turn."

Hey -- it's called the human condition. Forgive yourself, laugh at yourself, and just pretend that you want to connect in a meaningful way with the other person. I promise that if you pretend long enough…it becomes a habit, and the outcomes of this habit sure beat the alternative.

2. I must practice listening for understanding, rather than evaluation

We are all hopelessly hard-wired to evaluate. As creatures, we are subject to the same rules and conditions as all creatures -- and one of those rules is to evaluate the world in terms of its capacity to threaten our survival right now.

Unfortunately, that hard wiring has an inherent flaw. Most modern people like you and me are rarely faced with survival-threatening events. Yet, when somebody engaged in conversation with us expresses frustration, fear, anger, or merely a different opinion than we hold, we react as if a stampede of saber-toothed tigers is busy sharpening their claws in our direction.

The fact is that every opinion anybody has is a learned one. That other person has a history, and very good reasons for their thoughts, opinions, beliefs, word choices, and behaviors, just like you do.

Communication, contrary to the present worldview, is not meant to be combat. Our job is to practice just imagining what the other person's worldview must be, rather than trying to change it, fight it, or argue them out of it.

The key word in this "must," though, is practice. What is practice? Repeated behavior over time. Letting other people be, and opening yourself up to imagine other points of view than your own, is the hardest practice you'll ever do.

3. I must be aware of words, phrases, and behaviors that distract me and make me defensive; and exercise emotional control even though I disagree.

The fastest way to get aware of those words, phrases and behaviors is to keep an "upset log" in which you jot down each and every "hot button" that you have as it gets pushed. Maybe it's being called stupid, or perhaps it's that adolescent "eye-rolling" behavior that gets to you. How about certain curse words?

How much energy have you spent trying to get all those other people to stop pushing your buttons? That is the worst possible investment of your energy. Look at your record. Your own history should show you the odds are very much against you.

Instead, invest your energy in reconfiguring your wiring so that you can exercise emotional control. Practice. Use the "Perspective Game." So that 13-year-old rolls her eyes, heaves a great sigh, and says in a monotone, "I don't know." Feel the adrenaline rush, just notice it, and before any words leave your mouth, get some perspective by asking yourself a question like, "How is this situation the same as getting both my legs cut off in a freak train accident?"

4. I must concentrate on what they are saying, in spite of distractions

Let's face it…the deck is woefully stacked against us when it comes to true listening. Not only are we plagued by the endless internal monologue -- we also have to contend with external distractions in our environment. Time, to-do lists, noisy equipment or crowded rooms can all get in the way of listening.

The best way to concentrate in spite of distractions may be to deal with them first, so that you offer the other person the courtesy of your undivided attention. Do that by telling the person the truth: "I'm distracted right now because I have a meeting in five minutes. Can we talk in an hour, when I can give you my full attention?" Or, "It's hard for me to concentrate on you while that loud music is playing. Let's turn it down so I can listen better."

5. I must recognize that listening powerfully may be the key to my success

Whether your success is defined as moving up in your organization, making more money, having loads of friends, minimizing stress and maximizing your health, poor listening can be the missing piece that keeps you from experiencing that success.

Intentional listening builds relationships. In your work, look at how much of your job depends on getting cooperation from other people. Whether you’re the top dog or the underdog, you can't do it alone. The person you're dealing with may be a bona-fide, certifiable jerk, but treating them that way will not get you much in the way of cooperation from them. I guarantee that listening will.

Reconfiguring your own wiring so that nobody gets you upset without your conscious cooperation has a liberating effect on your sense of control. When you feel more in charge of yourself, you experience less stress -- and the toll that stress takes on your body is minimized. You feel more content, complete and satisfied.

When you feel content, complete and satisfied with yourself, you are a joy for others to be around. Your circle of friends expands. Your family welcomes you home, and life is good.

Author's Bio: 

Speaker, trainer and author Jan Pedersen offers keynote speeches, training seminars and workshops to organizations who want to improve interpersonal effectiveness, reduce or eliminate conflict and increase results. Visit her website www.communicate4results.com or subscribe to the twice-monthly newsletter "Communication Insights" by emailing subscribe@communicate4results.com