by Alan Seale with Rebecca Johns

One of the core capacities of Transformational Presence is deep listening. Deep listening goes beyond the “active listening” skills that many leaders and coaches have been taught. I often speak of it as “intentional listening.” Deep listening is an art – it’s a combination of presence, awareness, intention, focus, and holding space. It’s about creating an open, welcoming, safe space for the speaker that allows what wants to be said to come out. How you listen can change everything.

Recently, Rebecca Johns and I were talking about tools, exercises, and frameworks for developing deep listening skills. Rebecca is one of our Certified Transformational Presence coaches and a great wisdom keeper in our community. Knowing Rebecca’s incredible curiosity and her profound commitment to ongoing learning, I asked her what she was currently exploring. This is what she shared.

My current deep dive into listening has shown me that there are ways of listening that I’ve started calling “Listening Rebecca JohnsTo, Listening For, and Listening From.” We listen to each other all the time. However, truly hearing one another, and the deeper meanings behind the words, is often missing. Truly hearing one another means listening beyond the words and information – listening for emotions and values.

I’ve been intensifying my listening focus. As I listen to a client or a team or a friend, deep inside, I’m asking, “What are they feeling? What matters to them?” I’ve become aware of how much we tend to listen from a perceived position or point of view, or how we listen for what we think they are going to say. And that gets in the way.

A couple of weeks ago, I was working with one of my clients who is the CEO of a big company. We were talking about his frustrations with some of the people in his company. As we explored, I sensed that the root of his frustration might actually be his own patterns of listening. So I asked him if we could play with different ways of being with his people and different ways of listening to them. He was open and ready.

I briefly explained this listening concept I had been exploring. Even as I explained the concept, he was already making associations for himself. For that session, we chose to focus on the perspective or point of view that he was listening from.

A quick pause in Rebecca’s story to give a little background for what she did next in that session. One of the Transformational Presence frameworks that our coaches use most frequently is “Time and Space Sensing.” In this simple framework, you choose several different places in the room to represent different possibilities, perspectives, people, or situations – whatever is appropriate for the topic you are exploring. You then invite the people you are serving to stand in those different places, take a moment to settle into the energy of that “time and space,” and sense or intuit what messages are waiting to be discovered.

Rebecca explained to the CEO that each spot would represent a perspective that he was listening from. She quickly wrote four perspectives on individual pieces of paper and placed them in different spots on the floor.

  • Being the expert and being right
  • Being totally curious, open, and accepting
  • Being the one to solve the team’s problems
  • Being willing to learn something he didn’t know

Now back to Rebecca:

I asked him to stand in each spot and to intentionally embody that particular perspective. So he stood in the first spot to sense what it feels like when he listens from the perspective that he is the expert and he is right – that he knows already what they should do. He made several significant discoveries about what happens when he listens from his place. I noticed that his energy got very heavy when he stepped into this spot, yet we didn’t talk more about it yet. I wanted him to experience the energy of all four perspectives first. It was clear that a lot was happening inside of him, and I trusted that a significant realization would come in the end.

As he stood in each spot and sensed the energy, once again I noticed subtle (and sometimes not so subtle!) shifts in him – the way he was standing, his tone of voice, his breathing. After he had spent a few moments in each spot, he looked right at me and said, “I listen from the position of being the expert and having the answers, and that’s why I’m tired all the time.”

Our session continued on from there, yet his comment opened my eyes to the common experience I find with so many leaders and people with big responsibilities. They speak of being tired, feeling alone, and sometimes even a bit scared. They are exhausted from being “on” all the time – tired from giving every bit of their energy, from feeling like they must have all the answers, from needing to always be right. We create a big expectation for that in our culture, and it’s not serving us! The stress of keeping up that façade, of continually believing that we are here to give, and of feeling that it’s up to us to make things happen has created a culture of busy-ness and extreme fatigue.

When we are willing to step back, be open, and be curious about whatever may be happening, then what is happening can inform us. It can show us the way. We have learned in Transformational Presence to ask, “What is the message? What is this trying to tell me?” So what if we all just took a breath and allowed what is happening to show us the way to something new?

I love Rebecca’s framework of “Listening To, Listening For, Listening From. I immediately started playing with it myself and began noticing subtleties in my own listening. We all have listening habits and patterns, yet often we can’t see them without a framework like this to help us notice them.

As we wrapped up our conversation, Rebecca shared the assignment she had left her CEO with at the end of that session:

Try noticing your ways of being when you think you are listening. Challenge yourself to be honest with yourself. Remember that until we are conscious of something, we can’t change it or become intentional with it.

Rebecca’s new framework for listening to, for, and from, stretches our awareness. It can change who we are and how we engage in every part of our lives. She will offer a webinar series through the Center for Transformational Presence on powerful ways of listening in the autumn. Watch for an announcement in August.

In the meantime, what perspective do you listen from?

~ ~ ~

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