Deep listening, presence and involvement

“Listening is probably the most underrated leadership skill. How you listen can be life-changing;
not just business- or industry-changing”.  C.O Scharmer, MIT/Presencing Institute

 This section gives you input on 3 topics

  1. Leadership Training #3 – practicing the mental shift
  2. A transformational leadership capacity
  3. Three types of listening

1) Leadership training #3

Your training exercise is: notice how you listen and practice the shift from internal (autopilot) listening to a genuine and focused way of listening.

In this leadership training, you challenge yourself to turn off your autopilot/internal listening in at least 5 conversations. This could be 5 random different conversations or in particular settings or with particular people. The point is that you actually consciously choose to practice your listening. Feel free to team up with a colleague to practice. 

Your task is to train your ability to notice your level of listening and making the mental shift from yourself to the other person, asking questions, encouraging the other to say more – and of course – tame your automatic desire to offer solutions and answers.

After each conversation, reflect, and journal. Use the SCOPE-formula as a way to support and structure your thinking:

  • Stop to reflect
  • Calm your self by taking three deep breaths
  • What did you Observe when you practiced the two different listening levels?
  • How did you Proceed/make the shift in your listening when you noticed “you weren´t listening”?
  • Evaluate: What did you learn? How did you progress? What was hard? What would you like to do differently?


Feel free to suplement your training with an inspirational read: I, Pencil


2) A transformational leadership quality

Genuine curiosity

True curiosity on the behalf of the other person in the conversation.

Questions and behavior that expand the thinking and awareness of the other person.

Genuine curiosity is the skill of “not needing to know/give the answer” or “find the solution”. It is the core skill that we are all born with; our ability to be fascinated and surprised. When we ask genuinely curious questions we open ourselves and others up for the transformative skill of meaningful co-creation.

When you are genuinely curious about another person you encourage participation, involvement, engagement, creativity, and contributions, the conversations become collaborative and you do the groundwork that brings forwards new ideas and lasting solutions.

One practical example:

Imagine that your team has had an increase in sick leave, and you have to address this issue with your team members. But, instead of deciding upfront what should be done (based on your strong beliefs, high engagement, and prior experiences), you decide to approach these conversations with genuine curiosity. In other words, you access a place in your mind and heart where you genuinely and sincerely wonder about how the other people in your team understand this situation and how they experience and view the way forward, including possible solutions.

When a person is met with genuine curiosity and openness, he or she will experience a sense of safety and collaboration instead of needing to defend, explain, guess, or justify certain behavior or causes.


3) Three types of listening

Level 1 – internal, unconscious (autopilot) listening 

This level describes us in situations where we can “hear” other people talk while at the same time listen (sometimes more) to our inner thoughts, needs, interests, and values.

Let’s say you are with a friend who tells you a story, and what you hear is something that reminds you about something you yourself have experienced. Eagerly you await a pause or a break in the story so that you can inject your own story/memory.

Other times we might not want to tell a “better” story ourselves, but our unconscious mind starts searching in the archived memories of the brain and we zoom out.

When we listen at this “internal level” we might even see ourselves in the story being told. What would I have done if I were in the same situation? I might ask my self automatically.

As human beings, we continually judge, assess, and consider information as conversations unfold, and the questions we ask are most often to gather the information that is relevant for ourselves. In all these cases we have partially stopped listening because what we are actually hearing and reacting to is our own thoughts and only fragments of what is actually being told.

Our “inner voice of judgment”, or to “have answers for everyone”
shuts down the learning center of the brain

Boyatzis & Jack, 2010


We are listening on level 1 when we:

•Are focused on our selves, waiting to enter the conversation.
•Hear soundwaves and words, not meaning.
•Have little or no eye contact.
•Are generally uninterested.
•Have few or no questions.
•Multitasking (writing an email or typing on our phone)
•Try to confirm ourselves/our facts.
•Thiking about past or future.
•Offer advice and quick fixes to complex problems.

When we are operating on this level of listening we can often experience a collaborative pattern characterized by:

  • superficiality, over-politeness, fear, holding back, playing politics, defending


Level 2 – focused and genuinely curious listening 

Here we make a mental shift with regards to who is actually the main person in the conversation. On this level we move the focus from ourselves to the other person. The intent is to really listen to what the other person are saying, from the perspective of their views, values, desires, motivation, and engagement.

An important point on this level of listening is to use our empathy, meaning our ability to understand the other person’s viewpoint, their mental models, way of thinking, and their emotional state.

When listening on this level we are less judgemental, we are curious and we do not evaluate what is being said from our own mental models/understanding.

Here we listen to words, tone of voice, the energy, the emotional stare, and the essence of what is being said. We listen, repeat back, and summarize – in this way the person who we are having a conversation with will experience his or her thoughts being validated and her qualities being recognized. She will also be offered the opportunity to go deeper into her own thoughts and reflections.

We are seldomly solution fanatics when we listen at level 2.


To create a space for a quiet assesment, reflection and the study of our current situation
calms the activity in the limbic part of the brain (amygdala).  
Ochsner, 2008


We are listening on level 2 when we:

•Focuse our attention on the other person.
•Keep our own associations in check.
•Limit our own desire to solve the probelm
•Are not trying to extract more information for ourselves.
•Ask the other person to tell more, expand, go deeper, explain.
•Check our own understanding (Do I understand you correctly that….)
•Help the other person by summarizing (What I hear is….is that correct?)
•Recognize (What I like with what you are saying is….)

When we are operating on this level of listening we can often experience a collaborative pattern characterized by:

  • openness, personal ownership, solution-focused rather than problem-focused, gratitude, innovation

Nivå 3 – Deep listening

Where listening on level 1 and level 2 can be performed individually (i.e coaching), listening on level 3 is a collective experience.

Deep listening is hard to explain and is a seldom experience. One way of describing it is as a “field” between people and a sense of peaceful conversational rythm where two people or a team almost think together, effortlessly.

When deep listening occurs it is like time slows down and listening ends being an activity and starts being a state of mind.


An attentive presence integrates different neural networks in a way which increases
enhances focus and stress recovery.
Dan Siegel. UCLA (1999, 2010)

We are listening on level 3 when we:

  • Set aside our ego, personal agendas and restrictive perspectives.
  • See gifts and opportunities in all contributions and accept all perspectives as valuable.
  • Recognize and let go of the voice of judgment, cynicism, and fear
  • Can sense and connect to the respect, gratitude, inspiration, and unwavering confidence
  • Listen to the future with an openness to not knowing, being attentive to what “wants to emerge” or what is actually growing in the conversation.