Last week, we had delved into four levels of active listening.

  1. Level 1: Downloading
  2. Level 2: Factual listening
  3. Level 3: Empathetic listening
  4. Level 4: Generative listening

We also briefly touched upon how this can help us develop improved strategies and contribute to innovation and ideation:

  • Active listening is key to gaining empathy
  • Empathy is key to identifying and framing the problem right
  • Identifying the right problem is key to ideation and solutioning

Interestingly, while we are hearing/listening to something all through our waking hours there is something else that is also going on simultaneously. And that is self-talk or an inner dialogue.

Much has been said and written about the inner voice or inner dialogue and it seems to mean different things to different people. Prof Claus Otto Scharmer, of MIT has researched this and propounded a change management method – Theory U. Some thinkers – such as Tim Brown (Chair of IDEO); Prof Roger Martin of the Rottman School of Management have developed the theory of Design Thinking, built around similar principles

The key to active listening is cultivating a beginner’s mindset: We all carry our experiences, understanding and expertise with us. While these are valuable assets – only at the right time – they can be misconceptions and can pose challenges to gaining real empathy and insights into the problem. It is, therefore, important, to assume a beginner’s mindset, in order to put aside these biases.

Among other things, Scharmer says, three Voices, act as enemies and hinder you when/from – moving towards a higher but uncertain possible future. They are the Voice of Judgement (VoJ), Voice of Cynicism (VoC) and the Voice of Fear (VoF):

  1. Voice of Judgement: The VoJcloses your mind off by judging new information and ideas. It’s trying to confirm your worldview and mental models.

In our line of work at Schoolnet / Learnet, we often encountered this in the near past when many stakeholders looked at online learning with suspicion and disdain. A clear case of Voice of Judgement where one has a mind closed to innovation and new ideas.

  1. Voice of Cynicism: The VoCcloses the heart by being cynical about the outcome and intention of other humans. Better only trust yourself.

Going back to the above example, one can almost hear new users of technology making cynical remarks and brushing off its possible uses and advantages even before seeing the outcomes and merits. Extreme cynicism makes them suspicious not just of the idea but also of the person or people who represent anything that the cynic is not comfortable with.

  1. Voice of Fear: The VoFcloses your will by playing to your fears to stifle you and prevent you from taking “the leap”.

We all have at some point of the other tried teaching an older person or parent how to use a mobile phone or feel comfortable in a video call. Their unwillingness to switch to a smart phone is not always to do with financial implications alone. Somewhere there is a lurking fear of trying something new and the apprehension of not being able to handle it and consequently cutting a sorry figure in one’s peer group.

These 3 voices are present in your inner dialogue. We must learn to recognise these and understand each one of them. Striking the right balance between judgement, cynicism and fear is key to approaching change. While all three are critical to correct decision making and undue inclination or propensity for one or the other can result in taking decisions which may not be in best interest of the organisation.

  • VOJ : While we must not judge or be judgemental – using our judgement based on experience is important
  • VOC : While we must always weigh the odds – being cynical can result in excluding ourselves from experiencing healthy change
  • VOF : While we must tread carefully into uncharted territory – being unduly fearful will eventually exclude us from a future that could well have been ours.

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So listen to the chatter going on in your head, listen to the 3 voices occasionally engage with one another and perhaps even say different things. This is expected and very natural. But ultimately take decisions that propel you and the organisation to a better, brighter future. Be ready and prepared for change and remember that change means evolution, and evolution necessarily means growth.

So happy listening – this time to your own voices!!!

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