Are you really really listening?
As a leader and now as a coach, I have found that listening is the most underrated and under-practiced skill in the world. Every one thinks they do, almost everyone secretly knows, they could do better.
Otto Scharmer presents a simple but powerful model for listening in his book The Essentials of Theory U. He lists four stages or archetypes of listening:
1. Downloading: Listening from habit, re-confirming what you already know. Nothing new penetrates your bubble and your inner commentary dominates.
In my case, for example, in my years as a leader, I dutifully lent my ear to many, despite all the pressure and stress. I thought of it as an exceptional quality, and people around me often confirmed my assessment. But looking back I can safely say that a lot of that listening, yielded little incremental value. Perhaps a more concious effort could have provided invaluable ideas, if only my internal voices weren’t as dominant. Sadly it was a lot of un-optimised listening time.
2. Factual Listening: You let the data talk to you and notice disconfirming information. You open your mind and let go of your own judgement. You’re focussed on the person in front.
The move to factual listening is a big step. As data seeps in and I drop the wall of judgement, I find my self concious and empowered. Most importantly, I’m now focussed on the person speaking. The upped conciousness is almost obvious.
3. Empathic listening: Do you see a situation from another’s lens? If yes, you open your heart and feelings to the process and tune into the other persons views. When you move here, your place of listening successfully shifts from mind to heart.
Otto Scharmer postulates that the heart is certainly the bigger of the organs. and seems to suggest that empathic listening is higher grade listening. I can vouch for the fact that when your place of listening shifts, not just you but the person infront of you knows. It’s a no-brainer or should I say no-hearter. I would argue though that empathic listening and factual listening both have their own place, depending on the situation.
4. Generative listening: You are successfully holding space for new possibilities. Listening for the highest future possibility!
This is really the holy grail- where I wish I could be all the time. When i’m in generative listening mode, there is no effort. And the ideas and possibilities that emerge are of the highest order
Leadership and change work depends on the quality of the leader or coach to observe and adapt his or her quality of listening.
If you are listening now, ask your self, what level you’re operating off.