Pin on your magic ears and eavesdrop on humanity
Do you remember The Wizard of Oz movie turning from black and white into glorious colour? A piece of magic, a new vision, a new way of seeing the world. There’s a similar piece of wizardry available to us every day: the power of listening in a special way.
We often listen only through the fuzzy interference of our own mind-chatter, filtered through our own prejudices, experiences, and opinions. We sit in business meetings not listening to others’ wisdom, desperate to prove them wrong and waiting to share our own brilliance, forgetting that everyone else in the room is waiting to do exactly the same thing.
But there is another way. The Co-Active Model, not just for coaching but for leadership and life, outlines three ways to listen.
Level 1 Listening — This is how most of us listen most of the time. We hear the words but we’re just waiting for our chance to speak, or we’re thinking about something else completely, or making a shopping list . . . or doing anything but actually paying attention to the person across from us.
Level 2 Listening — This is the next level of listening. We put all our true, focused attention on the person who is speaking. It is a mental leaning-in, a curiosity that wants to catch every word and syllable, as if the message is the most important in the world. It is as if we have a mantra running in our head: I didn’t know that; tell me more; what’s important about that? The impact can be immediate. Human beings are trained to notice and appreciate when someone is really listening. We feel heard, appreciated, trusted, and valued. Trust begets trust. Listening this way raises productivity and co-operation.
Level 3 Listening — This is the most powerful way to listen and a hallmark of successful leaders. It’s when we first pay attention to everything and anything that is happening in and out of the room before concluding upon our course of action. This can be as simple as noticing the temperature and the background noises. Or it can be much deeper. What emotions are present? What is the underlying mood? What’s not being said? When does the message become strong and when does it weaken? All that information is available from the energetic field that surrounds us in all our relationships. When we do, we can use the information available to inform how we’ll respond to the circumstances present, instead of reacting and charging in without thought. Simply being human qualifies us to listen in this way. Thousands of years of evolution have equipped us to listen for threats and danger, to distinguish friend from foe, to know when a fellow human being is celebrating or grieving. It requires true focus to listen this deeply.
With just a little practice, we can learn to truly listen and reduce the interference from our own mind-chatter.
Here’s a place to practice. The next time you walk into a café or restaurant, try to notice what the emotional state of the room is. Happy or grumpy, busy or placid, energized or lethargic? There are a thousand different words to describe what is happening. None of them fit exactly, but just practicing will awaken your magical listening skills.