Resolution of deeper listening..
“Deep listening is miraculous for both listener and speaker. When someone receives us with open-hearted, non-judging, intensely interested listening, our spirits expand.”
~ Sue Patton Theole
I was on a work assignment and my role that morning was to speak with a certain gentleman who was a director of some government office. It was our first encounter. I was the new kid on the block and all the guns I brought with me that morning was my genuine interest to learn from this man about the situation. My task at hand was to get a conversation going with him on some issue as input towards work we were supporting. I was somewhat nervous and a little uncertain of where this conversation may lead and as some new encounters begin, this one started a little awkwardly and with the usual small talk. An initial 30-minute appointment found itself stretched into well over an hour and I remember being utterly consumed by what he was telling me and feeling grounded in the space that had opened up between us for an authentic exchange. For a first meeting and encounter, I noticed his gradual easing into comfort and trust as any judgments and pre-conceived notions I had dissipated.
Some days later I shared this experience with a colleague during a debrief and learned that the space for that conversation emerged from allowing myself to enter a deeper level of listening. Now on most occasions I consider myself a good listener. Other times, I have caught myself tuned out and just nodding away or going through the cabinet of thoughts unpacking information to relay as soon as the person is done. Yet for all these actions, I had no vocabulary to categorize the levels of listening that I engaged in till my encounter through work with Otto Scharmer’s labor of love – Theory U. An excerpt from his article introducing his work reads as:
“Otto Scharmer introduces readers to the theory and practice of the U process, based on a concept he calls “presencing.” A blend of the words “presence” and “sensing,” presencing signifies a heightened state of attention that allows individuals and groups to shift the inner place from which they function. When that shift happens, people begin to operate from a future space of possibility that they feel wants to emerge. Being able to facilitate that shift is, according to Scharmer, the essence of leadership today.”
In his work, Scharmer introduces four levels of listening, which he observed people engaged in over his years of work:
Listening 1 – Downloading: this level of listening is one we tend to engage with the most. Our inner voice of judgment is active and so what we hear is met with “I know this already” attitude and the space to deeply listen is not created.
Listening 2 – Factual: in the factual level of listening, we are intrigued by something new and so pay close attention mining for the new information in between what we already know. Our judgment is put on hold pending the discovery of new facts and discarding old facts.
Listening 3 – Empathetic: going a level deeper, the empathetic stage is where we are deeply connected to what the other person is saying to us and we engage in a deeper conversation. We are focused on looking at reality from the perspective of the one who is sharing with us. Scharmer shares that in this level, “sometimes, when we say “I know how you feel,” our emphasis is on a kind of mental or abstract knowing. But to really feel how another feels, we have to have an open heart. Only an open heart gives us the empathic capacity to connect directly with another person from within. When that happens, we feel a profound switch as we enter a new territory in the relationship; we forget about our own agenda and begin to see how the world appears through someone else’s eyes.“
Listening 4 – Generative: this level of listening is the more deeper one that does not happen often but can be cultivated to occur and allow the space for profound shifts to occur in our conversations. In his words, the generative level of listening is what makes you say: “I can’t express what I experience in words. My whole being has slowed down. I feel more quiet and present and more my real self. I am connected to something larger than myself.” This type of listening moves beyond the current field and connects us to an even deeper realm of emergence. I call this level of listening “generative listening,” or listening from the emerging field of future possibility. This level of listening requires us to access not only our open heart, but also our open will—our capacity to connect to the highest future possibility that can emerge. We no longer look for something outside. We no longer empathize with someone in front of us. We are in an altered state. “Communion” or “grace” is maybe the word that comes closest to the texture of this experience.
Ultimately our task at hand is to create the awareness within ourselves to notice which levels of listening we are engaged in and know which level will derive the best outcome we so desire. Specifically in our work environments, this listening perspective gives us an opportunity to positively affect our interactions and save the pain of workplace and even interpersonal misunderstandings that plague us all.
I am not one privy to New Year resolutions, as I strongly believe that resolutions to transform our lives must be done daily in increments. Nevertheless, as I wish you all a happy Ethiopian New Year, may a commitment to deeper levels of listening be what we collectively take into 2007 in the Ethiopian calendar.