I don’t know about you, but I’ve been really well trained in listening with my rational mind, aiming to “figure out” the problem or task I’m faced with, and then react with an action or suggested solution to “fix” the “problem” or otherwise make something objectionable go away…quickly! This schooling helped me perform well enough that I kept on being asked to step into leadership roles, which pushed me not only to hone, but to deepen those skills. This led to the realization that the model I started out with was Listening 1.0., and I needed an upgrade. Today, I believe that the complexity we live in demands at least Listening 5.0. This post is about Listening 1.0 – 3.0 – the next blog post will cover 4.0 – 5.0.
At Listening 1.0, everything is seen as a problem that needs to be fixed and all we need is the right solution. Listening is at a surface level, and compartmentalizes emotion. This level of listening seeks to confirm what is already known, or fit new information into existing frameworks. It is excellent for many situations, especially those based in technical issues.
Yet, there are lots of scenarios in which Listening 1.0 isn’t enough to “solve those problems”, especially when it comes to human thinking and behavior. When I answered the questions some clients and workshop participants would ask, I could tell that I hadn’t quite hit the mark in my answers, even though my answer was crisp and clear. This was because my listening, and therefore my answer, stayed on the surface. Here’s where I learned to listen more deeply for context – the upgrade to Listening 2.0. The context could relate to the person’s professional position, gender, socio-economic/ethnic/religious background, and other factors that inform the question or situation.
Listening 2.0 was a breakthrough! Even so, there were still plenty of leadership situations in which my listening skills weren’t helping to create transformation. At the start of my coaching career, I had a humbling recognition that I wasn’t helping my clients very much because I viewed the circumstances as a problem to be solved. Instead, in Listening 3.0, I needed to develop an understanding of what the client’s struggle was about, a struggle informed by frames of reference and assumptions that were, until that point, mostly invisible to me (and the client). This shift began at the start of my coaching career, when I recognized that not only weren’t technical solutions enough, and context was important but not sufficient to help the client…I needed to listen and ask more deeply, to surface the hidden beliefs and biases that kept the client stuck.
And this was great! Many of my clients, and my own goals, were well-served by this upgrade. Really substantive progress was happening for most of them. Some, though, were still only getting incremental progress, making headway by a degree here and there, sometimes 5 or 10 degrees, but not life-changing. What was missing? This is where I bumped up against the need to evolve my skills to