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Are we really Listening?

When we talk to people most of us are listening to build a response, we are not actively listening and processing information. Otto Scharmer developed ‘Theory U’ that explores how we learn and act from the future as it emerges; I have developed a simplified variant of this which I work through with clients and find very powerful.

The first step is to understand what active listening is, which fundamentally means paying attention without judgement and engaging with the speaker. A simple exercise to explore this technique is have someone talk to you for 5 minutes around a topic and just sit there and listen, this forces you to pay attention and you quickly realise how often you cut people off.

From here we can begin to recognise the 4 levels of listening that I refer to as:

  • Confirmation
  • Learning
  • Empathic
  • Generative

When we understand these levels we begin to listen better and as such build meaningful relationships:

  1. Confirmation – listening with the sole intent of confirming something that we already know, we are only hearing pre-conceived ideas and key words. This is the lowest level of listening and doesn’t demonstrate a level of understanding with the speaker.
  2. Learning – we are beginning to pay attention and focus on information that is new to us or represents a different view point. We show more interest in the speaker and will learn something about them or the topic.

At these first 2 stages we are still judging the speaker against what we hold true, listening becomes more powerful as we stop judging, open our minds and move to the next level.

  1. Empathic – we begin to engage in real dialogue and start to put ourselves in the shoes of the speaker. This enables us to see the world through their eyes and connect on a different level.
  2. Generative – the highest level of listening we are now connected to the speaker and begin to see future possibilities. You come away from the conversation having undergone a profound shift with a sense of why you are here.

Not many people operate on the fourth level but the best coaches do because it enables them to understand their clients ambition and potential to the full.

Making this relevant in business

In every client exchange we have the opportunity to learn and understand our clients and customers. We are no longer pre-selling a product but building a bespoke solution through understanding. When we can empathise with their situations, we can build better relationships and evolve our businesses to future needs before they arise.

This requires operating without judgement and keeping an open mind which personally I have found a challenge in the past, however, now I recognise what is going on I have shifted my behaviour to be a more effective listener. I would encourage anyone reading this to recognise the levels and see how they can benefit our daily interactions.

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