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deep listening

Listening from your heart

Listening from your heart

Many of us have in some form or another come across the wisdom that we cannot solve problems with the same thinking that created those problems in the first place. For me, the subsequent question to this is, how do we get to new ways of thinking both in ourselves and with those around us?

The issue with thinking patterns is that they occur rapidly and are often difficult to spot. After all, what we think about the world develops as a natural conglomeration of our experiences and the way our mind interprets and learns from these experiences. In order to really place a finger on our thinking patterns we have to first engage with the systems within us that try to protect those patterns and keep them from being challenged. These systems have been described by some as the "voices" of judgment, cynicism and fear. 

Otto Schaerma from MIT's Presencing Institute describes the engagement with these three voices as one of letting go in order to let something else come. 

Specifically, it is through learning how to temporarily suspend our voices of judgement, cynicism and fear that we can then notice the thinking patterns that they veil. Suspension allows us to let our minds rest and opens up our hearts so that we experience ourselves and those around us with freshness and innovation. We can imagine that we wear these voices like a jacket. Within this image we can then figuratively take this jacket off, hang it on the chair next to us and become a neutral and open receptor. In this way our usual patterns of thinking are put aside and we allow ourselves to actually notice an issue or interaction as if it was the first time. 

This is certainly no easy task. In fact, once we start paying attention we may notice that even when we try to suspend these voices they continuously reappear while we communicate. Reflect on how often in conversation what you hear is filtered by doubts regarding what someone else is saying (voice of judgement), not believing someone else's information (voice of cynicism) or feeling hesitant to really empathize or feel someone else's emotion (voice of fear). By suspending, all we are really doing is placing our intent on noticing these voices every time they appear and letting them go...noticing them again and letting them go....and continuing to notice them and let them go. 

Suspension allows us to let our minds rest and opens up our hearts so that we experience ourselves and those around us with freshness and innovation.

The more we practice this the better we get at it. Soon enough we may enter a state where while listening to someone we actually can hear much more of what they are saying, without getting distracted by what we will say next or by our own analysis and meaning-making. In these moments we finally have the possibility to communicate with presence from the heart. Pay attention to your heart and bring focus to asking questions and speaking from this part of the body. Schaerma calls this "generative listening" and is referring to communication in a realm that is greater than both the listener and speaker previously knew were possible. It results from this intent to listen with presence. It allows for new perspectives, ideas and feelings and can produce solutions that would have never been discovered had the old thinking patterns been kept in tact.  

After such a generative conversation, it can often be useful to take a few moments of silence to reflect and digest what emerged from the open communication. It is here that if we choose, we can put our “jacket of voices” back on and discover what we have learned through the experience. Whether through meditation, journal writing or taking a walk, this can be a great opportunity to uncover something about ourselves. Here we can assess the usefulness of both maintaining some aspects of our past thinking models and the necessity to change others aspects. Ultimately, suspending allows us to modify and develop our default habits. In turn we enable conscious and engaging processes that bring our hearts into every conversation that we have. 

Active listening vs. Real listening

Active listening vs. Real listening

With a culture so focused on leadership and public-speaking, much of our Western education model makes sure to offer plenty of opportunity to develop our capacities in these areas. However, very little if any attention is given to counterpart roles of followers and listeners. As a result, we are living in a society where our understanding of good followership is nearly non-existent, and our capacity for listening is mostly summarized under the skill-set of “active” listening while missing the much more profound capacity of “deep” listening.

The most alarming side-effect of active listening is the power of listener to manipulate what a speaker actually talks about.

Active listening often involves a type of participatory, affirming set of techniques that has the listener employing behavior like regular eye-contact to show connection, head-nodding to demonstrate understanding, the use of “uh-huh, mmm, yes” to encourage and support, and the use of lots of supportive questions and paraphrasing to make sure the speaker feels heard. While this approach to listening is great in many circumstances and is a sure-fire way to make a speaker feel heard, there are also unrecognized side-effects. 

The most alarming one resides in the power of listener to manipulate what a speaker actually talks about. Through our use of affirmations, paraphrasing and body gestures, we send strong signals about whether we approve and agree or not, and this can often lead a speaker to continue their course of thought or shift and change to another one, accordingly. Active listening also suggests that a listener must somehow demonstrate their level of participation and engagement, and this often leads to a “thinking about what I’m going to say/ask next” monologue. We often try to jump in with opinions or stories to show how we can relate. The problem here is that while we are busying ourselves with all the effort required of actively listening, we aren’t fully paying attention to the speaker and tends to keep conversation at a relatively generic level. It also often leaves listeners feeling tired at the end of the conversation, suggesting that active listening also requires extra effort and energy. Active listening can be attributed to Level 1 or Level 2 listening, sometimes called downloading or factual, and remains on the level of polite conversation or debate, often producing results by the end of the conversation that could have already predicted by everyone at the onset.

As such, active vs. deep listening is a matter of paying attention to our attention, and practicing and experimenting with the various levels of listening whenever possible so that we can fine-tune or sense of how to best use all 4 levels.

Deep listening on the other hand requires a whole other set of techniques and presence, and allows for Level 3 and 4 listening, when empathic or generative dialogue are sought after. In this case, the goal of the listener is to give full and undivided attention to the speaker in a way that holds space for the speaker’s greatest possible wisdom to emerge and remains curious about essence and source from which the speaker shares. The invitation here is to restrain from any verbal or physical affirmations and simply support the speaker in following their own deep sharing thought-process. In deep dialogue, we often encourage speakers to imagine they are speaking from their gut, rather than their head, and to only share the truth that comes out from there. Many people often notice that the volume of a conversation often decreases when people start speaking more from their bodies than their heads. Additionally, listeners pay attention to their own inner monologue and notice voices that can distract them from deep listening, such as voices of judgement, cynicism, or fear. When the listener notices the voices he/she simply lets them go and returns to giving full attention to the speaker. Lastly, the listener focuses on staying fully mindful and embodied in their own presence, and only asks questions that feel truly in service of the speaker and the generative dialogue. Often the results of these types of interactions are a new understanding and emergence of wisdom on whatever topic is being explored. Results are often different than what participants had expected and energy is notably higher. People note a sense of speaking from the whole rather than from their own individual perspective or needs.

Ultimately, it is the quality of our attention that dictates the outcomes we see and experience . As such, active vs. deep listening is a matter of paying attention to our attention, and practicing and experimenting with the various levels of listening whenever possible so that we can fine-tune or sense of how to best use all 4 levels.

MOVE workshops always use education and practice about deep listening as a foundation for our work with clients. For more information about deep listening you can also check out this fantastic brief article by Alan Seale