Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sit There and Listen

By Pia Infante

Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don't have to do anything else. We don't have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.    
(Margaret Wheatley)

This quote brings to mind the quality of presence that John has cultivated over the years at the Whitman Institute. I’ve often reflected that the space here - simple, humble, open, with big glass doors that overlook trees and invite sky into the room - is now infused with the quality of Listening.  

Listening is often described as an act. Perhaps it is also a quality in a person, a room, a gathering, or an approach.

Deceptively simple, listening is not always easy. The Coaches Training Institute identifies three levels of listening: internal, focused, and environmental. Internal listening gives attention to the ongoing discussion within our own person – observations, plans, anxieties, and questions. Focused listening refers to giving attention to a person, absorbing without responding (much like Margaret Wheatley describes above). Environmental listening is expanding our attention to everything – the sounds, the energy in the space, and the flow of the world - in and around the conversation.

It seems to me that high quality relationships, gatherings, and approaches often integrate focused and environmental listening with ease, while creating space for any necessary self-disclosures about internal listening.  

I wonder how a
Listening Indicator (note: I just made this up, but please educate me if it exists in a parallel universe) could be of use, particularly for those in the practice of meeting and conversation design. 

Listening Indicator might ask the following questions:

What was the quality of Listening in that conversation or meeting? 

What is the quality of Listening in this partnership?

What is the quality of Listening in this organization?

A potential scale for the
Listening Indicator could be: 1 (Sparse – Evident that very little Listening has actually taken place. Distraction. Lack of Attentiveness. No Demonstrated Curiosity.) to 5 (Full – Evident that Listening has taken place. Attentiveness. Checking for understanding. Engaged Presence.)

Writing this post has me wondering about the quality of my own listening – whether on a conference call or at the dining table. And wondering, for all of us who design meetings and scaffold dialogue, how do we co-create the conditions for the highest quality of Listening in every setting?

As always, your reflections and questions are welcome here.  We are listening.