(Editor’s note: We felt this article on listening is a perfect example of opening up and getting unstuck from the idea that we already know everything about a situation.)
“Successful leadership depends on the quality of attention and intention that the leader brings to any situation.”
– Otto Scharmer
I’ve been studying a revolutionary system for leading, innovating, problem solving, and developing strategy. It was developed by MIT lecturer Otto Scharmer, in conjunction with seminal thought leader Peter Senge. It’s described simply in a business book they co-authored called “Presence”. The entire process begins with listening.
The simple premise is that while we know quite a bit about what great leaders do, we know very little about the inner place, the Source from which they operate. Scharmer asserts that learning to recognize the habits of attention in any particular business culture, requires among other things, a particular kind of listening. He then outlines four stages of listening, with each progressive stage inhabiting greater levels of depth and skillfulness.
Four Stages of Listening
1. ” I already know what you’re telling me” (Downloading)
In this type of listening, your inner voice of judgment is in the driver seat. You believe that what you hear confirms what you already know. You’ve decided there is no new information or insight, and slot everything into your existing paradigm of mental knowledge.
2. “Just give me the facts” (Factual)
In this next level of listening, you switch off your inner voice of judgment, and listen to the voices right in front of you. You adopt a scientific perspective, ask smart questions, let the data talk to you, and pay attention to the responses you get – whether confirming or disconfirming your existing paradigm of understanding.
3. “I know how you feel” (Empathetic)
This is a deeper level of listening. When you engage in a mindful connected dialogue, you become aware of a profound shift from your habitual listening – from things, figures and facts to the “beingness” of the other. This requires an open heart – to really connect with others from within. In this moment, you forget about your own agenda, and see the world from the place of another. Greater future possibilities open up from this level of listening.
4. “I’m deeply connected and in the ‘Zone’ listening” (Generative)
This is the deepest state of attention and awareness typically only known by top athletes as “peak performance”. You feel higher powered interconnected and fearless, listening and operating in a state of grace and ease with total knowledge of your best future possibility and self.
Generative listening is where all possibility exists – “being in the listening”, as another one of my teachers, Debbie Ford, taught me. We recognize that our barriers to listening – the Voice of Fear, the Voice of Judgment, the Voice of Cynicism – manifest as filters of arrogance, impatience, and distraction, and then we let go of those voices, and with an open will, re-focus awareness on what wants to emerge from the interaction.
This can be applied to your one-on-one interactions, your one-to-many interactions, and used as a powerful social technology in teams to create innovation, plan your strategy, and problem solve.
Increase Your Leadership Power Today
I invite you to become aware of how you’re listening. How you attend to, or listen to others, determines your emotional reaction, which in turn determines your action. Begin to notice when you react from your small place, rife with agenda and shadow, and try acting from a more self-aware, interconnected place. This alone has the power to shift your entire company. Also remember, when you want to make shifts in an effort to rise into your greatest potential – “doing” is only part of the equation. The bigger, more important part is “being”.
“We see the world not at it is, but as we are,” says ancient wisdom from the Talmud. So the key in transforming to your greatness is to witness how you hear, see and feel your world, from a place of stillness. Right action then becomes clear, skillful and powerful. And from there you can shift into the discipline of execution, execution, execution.