Jul
31

Listening with intentionality

“IT AIN’T WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW THAT GETS YOU IN TROUBLE.
IT’S WHAT YOU KNOW FOR SURE THAT JUST AIN’T SO.”
-Mark Twain

Jazz is predicated on a very unique type of listening. It’s a listening style that isn’t new but one that requires some explanation. It is kind of listening that is open rather than closed. Closed listening? That seems like an oxymoron but actually most of the listening we do is listening for what we think we know and once that notion is satisfied we stop listening. But the type of listening in which we are willing to suspend our own way of looking at the world in order to try on someone else’s perspective … is listening with intentionality. This is listening with the purpose of examining, understanding and living in someone else’s world — without trying to pass judgment on that world.

Listening with intentionality is listening with the purpose of learning what we don’t already know. This isn’t necessarily what’s going on when most people say “I’m listening.” But it is what’s happening when great jazz players improvise together.

Listening with intentionality draws the other four elements of the APRIL sequences into action. It’s the verb that transforms Autonomy, Passion, Risk, and Innovation into processes you can use in the workplace – or anywhere else.

Listening with intentionality is not the same as hearing, although it begins with hearing. All of the information we use to create the world comes through the sensual experiences of touch, sight, smell, taste, and, perhaps most interesting of all, sound. I find sound to be unique for two overlapping reasons. First, we can’t close our ears the way we do with our eyes or refrain from the act of touch or taste. Hearing happens constantly. The act of hearing is so deeply embedded in our psyches that most of the time it is a sense that we are at best, subconsciously aware of and, at worst, unconscious about. The second reason this sense is different is due to the nature of the stimulus of sound itself. Sound is ephemeral. A sound occurs in time, perhaps slowly or quickly — but either way it happens and then it is gone. Visual stimulae occur in time as well, but much of what we see is fixed; we can scan it over and over again, giving us the luxury of multiple “takes” in order to perceive the deepest and most accurate meaning of what we see. With hearing, it is very different. If we wish to perceive deepest and most accurate meaning of a sound, we have only the moment of engagement to move beyond hearing and actually listen to what is happening. To really listen is an action that requires practice, discipline and awareness. To really listen means to understand the we are predisposed to a “default setting” in our minds that filters out a great deal of what we hear. We are programmed to recognize that which is already familiar. There are valid evolutionary reasons for this default setting but unfortunately in a world of nuance, change and complexity this kind of “defensive” listening often works against us. The challenge is to listen for what we don’t yet understand … and that can give rise to both dissonance and uncertainty.

Listening with intentionality means opening up and tapping into the wide realm of our own, and other peoples’, creative capacity. If we learn to “listen” as the artist listens, our businesses, our organizations, and our societies can meet the challenge of solving critical problems by developing solutions that can only be developed by means of the collaborative intelligence made possible through listening with intentionality.

Listening with intentionality means putting the other person’s mind at ease by connecting with that person for long enough to respectfully “inhabit” his or her point of view. When we are listening in this way, we are not prompting a defensive response by interrogating, demanding, judging, or disengaging. The human brain cannot proactively learn if there’s an orientation towards threat or fear. It can only reactively respond by trying to reinforce everything it already knows to counteract the threat.

Listening with intentionality means getting beyond our own operational reality for long enough to discover someone else’s operational reality — and that takes patience and practice. “Through Listening” – the kind of listening that inspires movement beyond core operating assumptions from all parties — requires that we move past old, outdated reactions we may have been replaying in self-defense since childhood … and lay the groundwork for mature, collaborative, peer-to-peer responses that make it possible for us to uncover new realities, new assumptions, and new working principles. Creating mature, collaborative responses almost always requires the ability to pose courageous questions … and then follow those questions in unpredictable directions. THIS LISTENING IS RISKY, BECAUSE IT REQURES ACCEPTING VULNERABILITY TO THE NEW.

Listening with intentionality means being ready to be curious. Curiosity is how we navigate this type of explorational listening. Curiosity taps our intuition, points us in new directions and helps us to pose intelligent questions.

Listening with intentionality means building bridges among diverse interest, and laying the groundwork for community to arise.

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