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How are you listening?

A consummate communicator excels at listening with empathy and interest   | Photo Credit: Freepik

In my coaching work, we spend considerable time initially identifying and eliciting goals that are vital to move ahead from the place where the coachee feels stuck. The final goals, of course, are those closest to one’s vision of self in the future. The process of reflection helps them sift through, articulate and frame actionable goals to lead into that future. Time is also spent to distill the required action, and in visualising the accomplished goal, as the Coachee effects changes and manifests the desired qualities. Some key questions — ‘Why is this goal important to me’, ‘How will the goal help me’, ‘How will it look once I achieve the goal’ — are important cues in the growth journey.

Over time and recurrently, one goal that has featured as a top goal is a desire to be effective, authentic communicators. In their narration of individual life-events — occasions where communication was pivotal — it features as an invaluable life skill. If we delve into our own lives, the critical role of communication would rank on top; to connect socially, to build meaningful relationships and, importantly, to be equipped to handle life’s many curve balls.

Our social and cultural upbringing conditions us to focus on speech. We are taught to speak well, recite, debate, amass vocabulary, deliver to an audience and carry our voices with passion and energy. No part of this training is rooted in being quiet, in listening. This is the biggest irony in communication, which is a life skill far more nuanced than skillful language, expression and delivery.

A consummate communicator excels at listening with empathy, interest and brings energy and openness to all parts of the experience. And listening, once we learn to, makes way for the rest. Sample this, to deliver a lecture, listening is in the pre-work and ground-research of the audience’s needs and context. ‘What will be really meaningful, resonant for them?’For a successful dialogue, each participant needs to step into the context of the other, keenly listen into the natural flow of information, adjust to new insights, and respond in real-time. As therapists and coaches, we listen to the emerging reality, with no prior knowledge or judgment, crucially supported by curiosity, an open heart and deep intention, that we call Presence.

Four types

In his book, Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges, Otto Scharmer writes, “The challenges we face require us to become aware and change the inner place from which we operate. As a consequence, we need to learn to attend to dimensions: what we say, see, and do (our visible realms) and the inner place from which we operate (our invisible realm, in which our sources of attention and intention reside and from which they operate). When we see this place, we can begin to use it as the lever for practical change.” Scharmer goes on distinguishes four basic types of listening:

1 “ Yeah, I know that already.” This is downloading: listening by reconfirming habitual judgments. Everything that happens confirms what you already know.

2 “Ooh, look at that!” The second is object-focused or factual listening: listening by paying attention to facts, and focussing on what differs from what you already know. Your listening has to switch from attending to your inner voice of judgment to attending to the data right in front of you.

3 “Oh, yes, I know how you feel.” The third, yet deeper, level is empathic listening. We can become aware of a profound shift in the place from which our listening originates…To do so, we have to activate and tune a special instrument: the open heart. We forget our own agenda and begin to see how the world unfolds through someone else’s eyes. Empathic listening is a skill that requires us to activate a different source of intelligence: the intelligence of the heart.

4 “I can’t express what I experience in words. I feel more quiet and present and more my real self. I am connected to something larger than myself.” This is generative listening, or listening from the emerging field of the future, which requires us to access our open heart and open will — our capacity to connect to the highest future possibility that wants to emerge. Scharmer calls this level of connection “presencing” or “seeing from our deepest source”.

As you read about the possible levels of listening, you will realise that effective and authentic communication is not so much about the words spoken, as about the quality of listening that arises from curiosity, empathy, intention, a kind of energy open to any possibility that is unfolding. While Level Four may not be relevant for everyone, the levels that support empathy, open-heart and curiosity are achievable through intention and practice to become the best communicator we can be and connect deeply with the self and with another.

The writer is a freelance writer, blogger and life coach. nivedita@ lifealigncoaching.com


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Printable version | Dec 2, 2021 7:37:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/what-is-communication-all-about/article37018508.ece

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