When traveling in France last year, Dana and I spent most of our time in Provence. We were there for one month and not one person asked me what I did for a living. The French people took us at face value. We dined, visited the villages and socialized without discussing business. That’s the French culture and it was refreshing.

Then we stopped in Avignon to visit some friends with a group of Americans who were celebrating together. The very first question to me was, “What do you do?” I was crushed. Not that I’m not proud of what I do. Not that I don’t like to talk about my work, but we spent the entire month prior to this particular visit by just being us and who we were was not based on what we do, who we know, where we went to school, or how many university degrees we have accumulated.

In reality, the person who asked me what I did for a living was really only interested in sharing with me what he did for a living—and that’s ok because it is a standard opening for a conversation here in America. There is really nothing wrong with that as long as both parties know the reasons behind a question like that. I have found that if someone asks me about my children, they want to share with me something about their children. If someone asks me if I have visited Egypt, they want to talk to me about their travels to Egypt. We can be the best conversationalists by listening.

I have coined the phrase Concerned Listening. It is not quite the same as Active Listening as Thomas Gordon so eloquently discussed in his books Parent Effectiveness Training and Teacher Effective Training. Being a concerned listener demands that a person listen behind what he or she hears the other person feeling. It causes one to listen with a true sense of concern and by doing so the listener can comprehend more of what is being said.

As my friend and mentor, Wayne Dyer, once said, “You have to go deeper.” Yes, you need to go further to touch the essence of individual consciousness. It embraces many aspects such as non-judgment, acknowledgement of differences, self-confidence, tolerance and letting go of having to be right. When we really listen we express care in hearing another person’s views. Cavett Robert once said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I think he was right. This does not necessarily mean giving advice. That can be dangerous. Our friend Joey “O” says, “The only time to give advice ever, is never.”

Granted, cultures differ. Language and habits enter into our lives and influence us in ways that we don’t even realize. Suddenly we find ourselves living as adults, conforming to social patterns of “what will they think,” and doing what we can to feel important in the eyes of others. My experience of failing kindergarten taught me one grand lesson and that is: never allow anyone’s opinion of you to become more important than your own opinion of yourself. Feeling important is an inside job. It comes from within, not from without or from who, what, or how capable others think you are.

So remember, when someone asks you a question, answer them politely and return a question with sincere interest. Then listen with concern behind their words and you will find a whole new world opening up to you.