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How listening can transform an escalation toward potential violence into a wonderful connecting moment.
Theory U - designed by Otto Scharmer and carried by the Presencing Institute hosted by MIT, Boston (USA) - is a process for supporting innovation and deep change within personal, organisational and social contexts. The name comes from the process shaped graphically by a ‘U’ form. The aspect presented in this article is the left and descending part, characterized by the 4 levels of listening. • Level 1 is defined as downloading, the process that our mind does to confirm, or validate what we already know and to enact what we usually do. • Level 2 is defined as factual listening, where the shift of our focus is from us, to that which attracts our attention: the object of our attention. • Level 3 is defined as empathic listening, which happens when our attention is moving from the object (the fact) to the evolving being (person) in front of us and to the changes that are taking place in the moment within that person in front of us. • Level 4 is defined as generative listening, which happens when the focus of our attention is directed to the emerging future that is manifesting before us. This makes something visible that was not in the range of possibilities that our attention had considered before. (Source: www.presecing.com)
It was around 8:30 in the morning, thirty-minutes before the training participants would arrive. I came early to enjoy the precious time to get connected with the room, the sounds from outside and to personally welcome each of the participants as they entered. The previous day had been intense, finishing an hour after the set limit, the participants in groups of three had been so engaged in their group work that they were only able to enter the training centre’s wonderful library, after the librarian had left. We had taken the key from reception under the strict promise that everything would be left in the exact same order that we found it.
And I was sure we did!
Finishing my preparations and as I was taking out papers from my bag, I saw the librarian from a distance advancing towards me with big steps. I could sense from his movement something was wrong, the feeling that a dragon was about to open his mouth and let fire touch me. Indeed his words reached me like fire; “I have seen that you were with the group in the library and now the books are not in order!”
For a moment I felt overwhelmed, but just before my mouth could match his fire with fire, one dragon to another, I saw in a flash his feeling of not being appreciated for his work. I saw the love that he had for the books and the care he was putting into his work, and I saw that the he was moved from sadness through the lack of acknowledgement for that. This flash was enough to change completely my intended reply of denial and justification, to an answer of welcoming his deep care for the books. “I am really sorry to hear this. I will come with you and help you set them back in the correct place. Your library was of a great help to us and it should be of equal help to others.” I said. In that moment, the words of love instead of the words of resentment connected us heart to heart. “Thanks for your offer. I can do it, but come back to consult the books whenever you need.” He replied, and with that he went away with a smile. A smile was also present on my face and in my heart.
On my mind was left the acknowledgement and the joyful feeling of the incredible power of seeing beyond words with an open mind. To know that another interpretation of what goes on is possible, not only hearing the words, but sensing the situation and by having an open heart that moved from resentment for feeling attacked to caring for the person in front of me. I was really thankful for a great start to that day.
Try to recall the moment when you put a space between an instinctive reaction and the response you gave.
How did you feel as a result?
How can you support giving more space to communicate from your heart?
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