The Power of Deep Listening

The Power of Deep Listening

Sep 12, 2017: Weekly Curated Thought-Sharing on Digital Disruption, Applied Neuroscience and Other Interesting Related Matters.

By Heather Plett

Curated by Helena M. Herrero Lamuedra

Listening takes a lot of practice. Even though we develop our ability to hear while still in utero (unless we’re hearing impaired), genuine empathic listening is a skill that takes much longer to develop. And even when we’ve worked hard to develop it, we often mess it up.

Overcoming Distractions

Not only does listening take a lot of practice, it takes a lot of vigilance and intentionality to stay in it. Sometimes you can be in deep listening mode and suddenly, something will distract or trigger you and you’ll have to work really hard to stay present for the person in front. You may not always identify what it was that pulled you away–it can be a body sensation, an emotional response, or my own ego (ie. wanting to insert your own comment). When time something like that happens, youo have to bring your attention back to the person in front of me.

Genuine Listening

Here’s a summary of thoughts about Listening:

1. Genuine listening can’t be faked. While there are many outward signals that someone is listening (eye contact, bodily engagement, good questions), people need to have a genuine felt sense that the person listening is fully present.

2. Culture and context matter. Some cultures, for example, don’t value eye contact. And some contexts (ie. when the speaker has a lot of shame or trauma) require a more nuanced form of listening that may mean no eye contact and/or no questions.

3. “Ultimately, a good listener allows the person they are listening to to hear themselves.”. When we, as listeners, interject too much of ourselves in the act of listening (questions, interruptions, too much body language, etc.) we can pull the person away from the depth and openheartedness of their own story.

4. Genuine listening involves stilling your body and mind so that you can be fully present. When we are being listened to, we are usually perceptive to the body signals that a person is genuinely engaged with us.

5. The behavior of the person speaking strongly impacts our ability to listen to them. People find it most challenging to listen to another person when the speaker’s behavior indicates they are self-righteous, condescending, not willing to be open minded, performing rather than speaking from the heart, etc.)

6. Both speaker and listener have to be engaged and willing to be openhearted for it to work. Genuine listening is a two-way street and it can’t happen when one or the other is checked out, distracted or not being honest with themselves. If the speaker is closed off or defensive, it shuts down the ability to listen. If the listener is closed off, triggered, etc., it shuts down the speaker’s willingness to be vulnerable.

7. Genuine listening requires self-awareness and good self-care. When we have done our own healing work, paid attention to our own triggers, and taken time to listen to ourselves first, we are in a much better position to listen to others.

The Circle Way

The three practices of The Circle Way are:

1. To speak with intention: noting what has relevance to the conversation in the moment.

2. To listen with attention: respectful of the learning process for all members of the group.

3. To tend the wellbeing of the circle: remaining aware of the impact of our contributions.

Gathering in The Circle Way means that we slow conversation down and give more intentional space to both speaking and listening. When we use the talking piece, for example, there are no interruptions, cross-talk, etc. Nobody redirects what you’re saying by interjecting their own questions, nobody diminishes your wisdom by interjecting their answers to your problems, and everybody is trusted to own their story and look after the circle by not taking up too much space or time. It can take a lot of practice (some people are quite resistant to talking piece council because they don’t feel it’s genuine conversation if no questions are allowed), but once you get used to the paradigm shift, it’s quite transformational.

Four Levels of Listening

According to Otto Schamer and Katrin Kaufer in Leading from the Emerging Future, there are four levels of listening.

1. Downloading: the listener hears ideas and these merely reconfirm what the listener already knows.

2. Factual listening: the listener tries to listen to the facts even if those facts contradict their own theories or ideas.

3. Empathic listening: the listener is willing to see reality from the perspective of the other and sense the other’s circumstances.

4. Generative listening: the listener forms a space of deep attention that allows an emerging future to ‘land’ or manifest.

Listening becomes increasingly more difficult as we move down these four levels, because each level invites us into a deeper level of risk, vulnerability and openness.

There is no risk in downloading, because it doesn’t require that we change anything. Factual listening is a little more risky because it might require a change of opinion or belief. Empathic listening increases the risk because it requires that we open our hearts, engage our emotions, and risk being changed by another person’s perspective. Generative listening is the most risky of all, because it requires that we be willing to change everything–behavior, opinions, lifestyle, beliefs, action, etc. in order to allow something new to emerge.

Generative listening not only requires a willingness to change, but a willingness to admit I might be wrong.

Holding Space

All of us, through the healing of our own wounds, are much more able to hold space for others.

All of us need to continue to heal and build resilience so that we do not shut down in difficult/ risky/ vulnerable conversations. Some of that involves listening to ourselves more deeply and finding spaces where we are genuinely listened to.

This is not easy work, and it doesn’t happen by accident. Learning to listen is a lifelong journey.

If you want to be a better listener, start by listening to yourself!


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