Monday, February 15, 2016

Beyond Active Listening

We all want to coach our clients to be present enough to see how their habitual patterns operate, to respond out of free choice instead of reacting automatically. To do this well, we don't just instruct; we model by being fully present ourselves.

This goes way beyond active listening or even empathic listening. As described in Co-Active Coaching, "You listen at 360 degrees... as though you're surrounded by a force field that contains you, the client, and a space of knowing... and see what emerges."

Similarly, Otto Scharmer (Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges) describes a deep level of listening ("Listening 4") that requires full presence, frees us from habitual thinking, and opens new possibilities.
  • Listening 1 (from habits): Habits of judgment that lead to reconfirming old opinions and judgments.
  • Listening 2 (from outside): Factual listening and noticing differences that lead to new data.
  • Listening 3 (from within): Empathic listening that leads to seeing through another's eyes and emotional connection.
  • Listening 4 (from Source): Generative listening that connects us with an emerging future and shifts our identity/self. As a coach I hold the intention to be present at the deepest level of listening and to help clients notice how Listening 1, 2, and 3 operate as they move into Listening 4.
For example, Jane is in love with Bob. Both with busy lives, they've carved out a two-hour walk together, when Bob's phone rings with a desperate call from his sister Maggie that her heat is off and she's freezing. Although Jane agrees to go to Maggie's with Bob, she also notices her Listening 1 ("There's never enough time for me!"). Instead of reacting from that level, she probes for facts (Listening 2): Bob is the older brother of several sisters who relied on him before Jane came into the picture and she and Bob have talked about how to gradually balance that with his commitment to her. He's told Jane he wants to check in quickly and then continue their walk.

Still not reacting, simply being present, while at Maggie's house Jane engages Listening 3, putting herself in Bob's and Maggie's shoes ("Look how affectionate he is with his sister. That's the same fountain of compassion I love and respect in him"). She continues to stay present, now aware at Listening 4 ("What is there to know beyond my habitual understanding?"). In this place of full presence, she sees that her initial reaction came from a fundamental patterned belief, "There will never be enough for me." She shifts to a different sense of identify "I am not my pattern" and its hold on her is released. She is fully present.