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The Power of Great Listening

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

No doubt we are in times of significant transition. We still are because it will not be possible to predict the chain reaction that the pandemic had on our lives. Or whatever else is coming our way. Change is around us all the time. We only feel it when it directly impacts our lives, but a dramatic event is just a result of many small invisible changes before we feel its disruptive force. We are now more aware that we have this incredible ability to adapt to situations.

Nonetheless, all the time there is a disruption, instinctively, our brain goes in freeze mode. When stuck in fight-flight, we find it difficult to open up to new ideas and spend precious time stuck on the mourning curve (shock, denial, anger, depression, integration, acceptance) rather than looking for a collaborative and positive approach. If we can work towards some neuro-emotional agility as Henna Inam calls it- the ability to move from a threat state in our brain to forms of curiosity and creativity - we can bounce back quicker from setbacks and ultimately become more flexible and more adaptable.

The first step is to get from the "it's all about me" to "we are all in this together". Ideas are not born as great ideas but more like a collective team effort where it's crucial to keep an open mind to diverse points of view so we can learn and grow. If we can listen to learn, we can train our brains to be much more curious and agile.

First, let me ask. How do you listen?

There are four different levels of listening*. The higher up we move through the levels, the more our curiosity gets piqued. The more open we become, the more we are willing to empathise, learn and change. Awareness of how we listen is fundamental in successfully navigating changes for ourselves and the people around us.

Most people, most of the time are at level one. At this level, we are not interested in listening. We just hear what the other is saying, but in fact, it is all about us. We are more focused on giving our point of view or preparing what to say next. I want to share what I already know. I want to share how I'm right. Level one is all confirmation bias.

Level two listening is to listen to find new data. Here there is a little more curiosity involved. We want to understand if there are solutions or a different perspective, something we cannot see. So we step out of our "it's all about me zone" and are a little bit more open to finding new data.

Level three listening is where empathy is activated. So we listen not just to the story but what the person is telling us with that story. Here we listen with our ears but also our eyes and with our heart. We look at the body language for cues. We are interested in the person, and we genuinely want to know what motivates them.

Listening at that level requires a degree of mindfulness because that truly shifts our capacity to know ourselves and other people.

At level three, we are more deeply connected and create a bond of trust that goes both ways. And because people feel cared for, they are more receptive to change. We open up ourselves, our body language changes, and that affects the behaviours of others.

The last level of listening, Level four, is where the real learning experience starts. We listen to shape our own point of view, shift our mindset, and are prepared to be moved by other people. We are entirely focused on helping to create the best possible future, and our ego and any other barriers become unimportant.

When speakers and listeners can align like this, it's possible to generate new ideas and find the energy and enthusiasm to start bringing them into reality.

Agility is this innate quality that allows us to stretch, bend, adapt and transform ourselves. Looking back at the past 18 months, we can clearly see how we have changed so much in so little time. No one can resist change, even if we want to. We also know that we can get complacent and become less adaptable. We tend to associate leadership with vision, but we forget that listening is really at its core because it helps to challenge our opinions - "could I be wrong?" or "am I missing something?" By inviting diverse points of view, different from our own, we can continue learning and growing.

*Otto Scharmer "4 levels of listening."

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