Listen For . . . Second Dimension

“When a quality listener listens, they listen to people and believe in others completely. They encourage and support others in being the best they can be, just in how they listen, without saying a word.” David Rock

conversationWhile the two previous articles in this series have offered a “sneak peek” from our second book into lessons we have learned about listening such as moving from “listening to” to “listening for” and the power of reframing negative to positive, problem to solution, and complaint to commitment, this article will focus on our most recent learning about “listening for”.

In our quest to be the best coaches we can be, we dedicated our professional learning this year to the re-examination of the core competencies under the guidance of our mentor coach, Dr. Francine Campone, MCC (Master Certified Coach). In our study of the competency of active listening, we added four new “Listen Fors” to our growing list.

  1. Story
  2. Metaphor
  3. Contradictions
  4. Limiting beliefs

Story. Active listening puts us in a place to “listen for” the person’s story. It’s not fact; it’s the truth as they see it. They might be a victim, a hero, a martyr, etc. For example, when a coach heard a person say, “I see myself as her protector,” the coach used the story later in the conversation to ask, “How is your message protecting her?”

Not only do we get impressions of how the person sees himself; we get information about how they position themselves with regard to others. For example, when someone is complaining about another person, listening for the character they are taking in the story can be manifested in a question such as, “What character are you in this story?” Another strategy for moving a person from the details of a story is to shift the focus onto the effect or the impact of an event rather than the he said/she said from the event.

Metaphor. Because language is so important, by listening for the metaphors used by the person, a committed listener may gain insight into the speaker’s thinking and feeling. For example, when a person says, “I’ve reached a turning point.” our committed listening hears this as significant. It informs our paraphrase and possibly a follow up question. We might say, “Something has happened–a turning point—and you see it. What exactly do you mean turning point?” or “What are you turning from . . . to?” The person is finding meaning through the use of metaphor, either implicitly or explicitly. When we listen for and “lift up” these nuances, we open the door for deeper meaning by gaining clarity of the language for the person. We remember the strong metaphors that they use and see the possibility for how it may open the door as a pathway to what they want.

Metaphors may show up in different forms such as the following:

  • Color metaphors – “I’m feeling like I’m in the pink.”
  • Architectural metaphors – “I feel like I’ve hit a brick wall.” Or “I want us to build a stronger organization.”
  • Dimension metaphors – “I’m feeling like I am getting smaller.”

Contradiction. As coaches, we also “listen for” consistencies and inconsistencies in the story, in the metaphor, or in the language or emotion of the person. One example is someone who is “telling and re-telling a story” about an evaluation that was less than stellar and the words to you are, “I’m okay.” Clearly, they are not. Holding up this contradiction is our work as a coach. “Your words say you are okay and yet you keep telling me the same story as if it is not okay. What do you want to say about that?” Another example is a person in the position of being a leader who continues to put themselves in the victim mode in the story. Holding up the contradiction might sound like, “You are a leader who has enjoyed success in this arena before. Now, your words seem to release your power as a leader—even to give it away to others. How do you want to reconcile this difference?”

Limiting Beliefs. We learn about the potentially negative impact of limiting beliefs through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Within cognitive psychology, a schema is an abstract plan that guides an individual’s thinking and responses. In coaching, a schema is a broad mental guideline for interpreting a situation and how to respond to the situation. Schemas lead to sets of behaviors that are coping styles, which may or may not be productive. We observe limiting beliefs as behavior patterns and language patterns in others. We listen for language or descriptions of behaviors that indicate schemas which lead to helpful or unhelpful coping strategies.

Limiting beliefs show up in language people use to describe themselves. “I’m a klutz!” Or, as we have heard in our seminars, “I’m a real jerk (or worse).” David Rock reports that the amount of self-criticism, when tallied in hours is remarkable, ranging from 500 hours a year to as high as over 2,000 hours a year. It also shows up in the way people view their world. “I’ll never be able to get that job.” Or, “This child is the type that you can never really reach.”

A Reframe Story. Recently, a school Principal lost her right-hand assistant principal to another school. This was a re-assignment from the central office that broke the strong bond she had in her administrative team. She felt trust had been violated, and the words she kept repeating throughout the conversation were, “It’s hard. It’s just so hard.” The coach listened to this story and the language being used. The who, what, when, and how of the story was placing a usually confident leader into the victim mode. She had given her power away.

After at least three repetitions, the coach said, “Your strength as a leader is evident every day as you work to move this school to new levels of performance. Here is an obstacle that is very hard to comprehend. Knowing that what you say repeatedly is a message to your brain, how might tweaking the message to your brain from “It’s hard. It’s so hard.” to “It’s hard. It’s so hard AND I can do it!” influence your results? At the conclusion of this conversation, the principal indicated that the most valuable part of the conversation was when the coach held up this contradiction in the situation. She said, “You helped me move out of my negativity back into my power as a leader.” This was a cognitive shift for her and changed the course of her actions. She took her power back, held a fierce conversation with central office, and is currently celebrating a new position in another system.

As you consider the possibilities of this 2nd Dimension of “listening for”,
what aspect do you want to “listen for”?

Listening For Reframes

“The most fundamental coaching skill is listening. Listening is not the passive process it seems because it involves dedicated attention to the other person and exquisite attention to the language they are using.” Jenny Rogers

listeningIn addition to the “Listen Fors” noted in this month’s Ezine, our continuous study of coaching has introduced us to authors who have strongly influenced our thinking with regard to listening. A few of those are Sara Orem’s Appreciative Coaching and Kegan and Lahey’s work in How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work. This learning combined with our conversations with you, resulted in the notion of “Listening For” opportunities for reframing. In particular, these three reframes have made a significant difference in our listening. When we hear negative, we flip it to the positive, a problem becomes a quest for a solution, and a complaint turns into a commitment of what the person really wants.

  • From negative to positive
  • From problem to solution
  • From complaint to commitment

From Negative to Positive. Visit any bookstore and you will see shelves devoted to the power of positivity. Longer life, greater joy, and increased happiness are a few of the benefits noted in the literature. One side effect of our work is our almost insane attention to language. What we notice is that negativity permeates our language. Therefore, we have embraced the opportunity to create awareness around the choices we make with our language. In fact, presumption of positive intent is our standard and expectation for how we work. We have seen the power potential in our own work and we practice it even when we are not with you.

Barbara Fredrickson, positive psychology researcher and author of Positivity, states, “Daily experiences of positive emotions forecast and produce growth in personal resources such as competence, meaning, optimism, resilience, self-acceptance, positive relationships, as well as physical health.” We reference her work in our goal to encourage a ratio of three positive comments to one negative comment to foster growth and resilience. Our aim is to counteract the negative comments still prevalent in many of our workplaces and other environments.

From Problem to Solution. Because language matters our attention to it is critically important. What observations are you making as you compare the language in the left column to the language in the right column?

Figure 1. Changing a Conversation from Problem Focused to Solution Focused

Problem Focused Solution Focused
Why didn’t you hit the target? vs. What are you planning to do next time to hit the targets?
Why did this happen? vs. What do you want to achieve here?
When or where did it all start to go wrong? vs. How do you want to move this forward?
Why do you think you are not good at this? vs. What are ways you want to develop strength in this area?
What’s wrong with your team? vs. What strategies are you putting in place for your team to succeed?
Why did you do that? vs. What are you thinking you want to do now?
Who’s responsible for this? vs. How shall we best achieve this?
Why isn’t this working? vs. What steps do we want to put in place to make this work?

Source: Adapted from Appreciative Coaching, Solution Focused Brief Therapy©2007

The most frequent response to the chart is, “The left side does NOT presume positive intent.” We also hear there is blame and finger pointing that accompanies the comments on the left-hand side. On the right-hand side, comments include presumption of positive intent, believing in the person to find their own solutions, and a focus on the present or future rather than the past.

In one of our recent seminars, a participant spoke up, saying, “These questions are in the present progressive tense!” She then laughed about always being sent to the principal’s office as a student because she was constantly correcting her teachers. The verbalization of her “Aha!” moment provided clarity to us, along with another way to speak about the language of coaching. The present progressive tense indicates continuing action—something happening now or what will happen in the future. Present progressive language keeps us in the present and future rather than moving us backward or keeping us mired in the past.

Focusing on the problem makes the problem larger, deeper, and stickier. Reframing problem to solution surfaces options, possibilities, and the promise of resolution.

From Complaint to Commitment. One of our most profound insights came with the study of Kegan and Lahey’s work. This quote alone shifted our thinking in significant ways.

“We believe that people wouldn’t complain about anything unless they cared about something. Underneath the surface torrent of complaints and cynical humor and eye-rolling, there is a hidden river of passion and commitment which is the reason the complaints even exist.”

–Robert Kegan

Kegan’s quote represents a game changer because it rewires our brain to listen for what the person really cares about instead of what they are complaining about. Secondly, it offers a potential shift to the thinking of the other person when we reframe what they have said.

What makes these reframes important? In coaching, a reframe holds the potential for a cognitive shift that opens up new thinking, new directions, and an enhanced emotion. Moving from “can’t do” to “I’ve got this” or “I’m on my way to getting it” aligns the energy and emotion for action, creating awareness for the person about what they really want.

As you reflect on your most recent conversations, how are you changing the motivation, energy, and thinking of the person by offering a reframe?

Listening is the Psychological Equivalent of Air

“Listening is the psychological equivalent of air.” ~ Stephen Covey

listeningCovey’s quote speaks to the basic yet transformational power of listening. Research abounds about the undeniable importance of this skill. Without full presence while listening, the other skills have a diminished effect. Most people think they are a good listener until they assess, learn more about the attributes of committed listening, and actually practice the art of listening without speaking.

In our decade of work, another lesson has become crystal clear with regard to listening. When we reframe our listening from “listening to” to “listening for,” the results are astounding. This adaptive change becomes the bridge to the second skill of paraphrasing and takes the language from a literal translation to something much deeper. Let’s consider what “listening for” means.

From “Listen To” to “Listen For”

We spend a lot of time listening to details. “Listening For” requires staying out of the details. We keep the big picture while noticing the nuances in front of us. Listening in this way takes the conversation to a deeper level. So, what does one listen for?

  • What the person wants – This question runs throughout the conversation. Listening For what another wants cuts through the detail and takes us to the heart of the conversation. Some call it bottom line, others call it essence. Ultimately, it is what the person cares deeply about.
  • Emotion – Listening For emotion offers a barometer for the strength of how the person is feeling about something. Frequently, the entire conversation is about emotion over the content of the words the person is using. Emerging brain research and emotional intelligence speak to the significance of emotion in our lives. While often suppressed, we are learning that it is the mass under the tip of the iceberg. Naming the emotion does two things. It diffuses its power over us and sends the message that another understands what I am feeling.
  • Passion – Listening For my passion lifts up what is really important to me. Your recognition of what I have deep passion about connects us and shows that you care enough to hear what I love or care about.
  • Options, possibilities, potential – Surfacing options and possibilities from my language promotes my thinking and plants me in the present or prepares me for the future. This might also be called listening For potential. This kind of listening hears where I am heading, rather than what might not be working. Judgment is absent. Filters, if any, are transparent. You see me for who I am, what I care about, and where I want to go.
  • What is already working – We grow from our successes and strengths and sometimes people are so focused on what is not working that they forget that many things are working.

As you engage in conversations that build trust and focus for the work, what are you “listening for”?

The Power of LOVE

Henry David Thoreau said, “Do what you love to do. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it more.”

heart-burstFebruary is the LOVE month and it offers a reminder to show and tell the people we love that we do. Typically we think of loved ones – sweethearts, kids, grandkids, family members, etc. I’m thinking I want to send a Valentine to all the people with whom I have had the joy to work – my partners, my clients, the wonderful participants who attend and respond so appreciatively to our seminars and webinars.

I think I’d also like to send a Valentine to all my former students, many I have heard from through the years and many whose paths were lost to me. I loved teaching not because of the content, I just loved the variety of students who passed through my classroom and whose lives I know I directly or indirectly influenced. While very young kids offered the most challenge to me, they, without exception, touched my heart. When you felt low, you just had to stand outside a kindergarten class or first grade and watch and listen. Before you knew it, something was making you cry or laugh out loud. The innocence, the naiveté, the unique point of view of the 5 or 6 year old is a grounding gift. Middle school kids, now those were my people. A little bit grown up and a little bit childlike. Conversations with them made me feel like I had been sent on a mission to change the world and here is where I could start. High school kids, now they gave you hope. Every conversation with a high schooler made me feel so proud of our profession, so honored to have been instrumental to their learning along the way; they were trying so hard to be “grown up.” Working with kids was a lifelong practicum in child and adolescent psychology and I just loved watching, learning, and influencing the potential and future of each one.

three-heartsSo often in the work of education today our educators feel only the heavy weight of all the responsibilities and expectations. That weight can mask the very privilege and joy of working with lives who will grow up and do something that will influence, bring wonder, imagine more, explore beyond, create new, and most importantly contribute to our nation and world.

In this LOVE month, what if we paused for a few moments, spent some time in reflection and mentally listed the 25 things we LOVE about teaching and/or education. Thoreau said, “know your bone and gnaw at it” – so what do you love the most and want to just keep strengthening and polishing? How will you make sure it stays in focus? Wow, already thinking about another plan for…oh, yes, and where are those chocolates with my Valentine? heart-box-tiny Oh, there they are! Love the nuts.

Being a Coach Leader

businessman-looking-at-coworker“Many people think we can think for other people, yet when it comes to the way we process information, our brains are dramatically different. What we think another person should be doing is what OUR brain might do, which is very unlikely to be the right idea for another person.” (David Rock, Quiet Leadership, 2006)

So What Do We Do? We use Intentional Communication Skills of

  • Committed Listening
  • Powerful Paraphrasing
  • Presuming Positive Intent
  • Reflective Feedback

When people change the way they listen to another person, and give that person full presence – letting go of unproductive patterns of listening (like judgmental listening, solution listening, inquisitive listening and autobiographical listening) it offers an increased opportunity for the other person to “feel” safe and respected and thus they will open up. When this happens – relationships become stronger. We listen first and then speak intentionally and concisely.

Join us for one of our upcoming seminars to learn more about ways to lead others and enrich results and relationships.

Wake Up Joy

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” Albert Einstein

Yawning tired womanWake up Joy. You have fallen asleep and are waiting for inspiration to nudge you and bring you back to life. Inspiration enters in the form of a dedicated teacher. He looks at you and smiles. He tells you that you are unique and that within you are great thoughts, bountiful creativity and abundant knowledge waiting to step forward. He teaches you, listens to you, believes in you and talks with you, using respectful and caring language and behaviors.

Joy awakens and sets out on a journey that will change her life forever. She walks with many teachers named Inspiration, and for that we are all grateful.

By Vicky Dearing, PCC

Listening WITH

listeningJust as there is a distinction between “listening TO” and “listening FOR”, there is also a distinction between either of these and “listening WITH”. As we listen WITH an open mind and the intent to understand, it becomes impossible to judge or criticize another. Listening WITH requires full presence–mind, body, and heart.

When we listen at multiple levels, we are paying attention to the WHO of our thinking partner, not only the WHAT of the person’s words. We are listening at conscious and subconscious levels. If we fail to listen WITH the heart–and we often do so due to our own feelings of vulnerability or inadequacy–we short-change the potential of the conversation. Listening WITH also holds the idea that thinking partners are listening together–WITH each other. This deep listening is characterized by deep rapport between the two and may include long moments of silence that are teeming with possibility of new awareness for both partners.

Listening WITH requires us to give up our search for exactly the right question or statement. We are listening WITH trust in the coaching process, knowing that something of value will emerge in our thinking space.

How will you bring full listening presence into your conversations?

What will you let go of in order to listen WITH mind, body, and heart?

What story will you tell about listening WITH a thinking partner without attachment to the outcome?

By Frances Shuster, PCC

What Do You Listen For?

We have been listening since we were born—even longer than we have been speaking. We have years of forming habits about listening, based on input from family, personality of close adults, positive/negative recognition or attention, nonverbal communication patterns, and “do” or “don’t” messages. These socialization processes result in our listening through filters. These are some filters that exert great influence on our listening habits.

  • Young boy with headphones in vintage lookImages—past, present, and future
  • Past experiences
  • Prejudices
  • Strong feelings
  • Memories
  • Values
  • Beliefs
  • Attitudes
  • Interests
  • Assumptions
  • Expectations
  • Physical environment

These filters often “warp” the messages we receive because we are hearing through our filters and not seeking clarification from a speaker about his or her personal meaning. The static in our own brain and the internal self-chatter create barriers to true understanding of another. If we were not listened to as children, we may find other people who don’t listen to us or have a tendency to be nonlisteners ourselves.

In order to truly understand, we intentionally LISTEN FOR the values, beliefs and assumptions that lie beneath another’s actions. We LISTEN FOR patterns of speaking and behavior. We LISTEN FOR visioning, thinking, and planning. We LISTEN FOR the commitment that is hidden in a complaint, the solution that will emerge from the problem, and potential and possibilities.

In order to truly LISTEN FOR, we teach ourselves to be curious and nonjudgmental. We seek to deeply understand the thinking of others, and we turn down the noise in our head that distracts us from being fully present with another.

By Frances Shuster, PCC

What Makes Feedback So Hard?

woman-thinkingWe all know that feedback is the key to growth. It shouldn’t be so hard for us, after all humans are wired for learning. We are learning from the minute we are born and hopefully until we leave this earth. Aha…oh, yes, easy to learn but to learn about me? Now, you are getting personal!

Learning about ourselves can be tough because sometimes it comes like a kick in the stomach or an upset stomach. Who wants that? It doesn’t take too much of that kind of feedback and we all run. Coach Leaders are changing the wiring about feedback supporting others in an environment of emotional safety and trust to ensure the feedback helps another to grow stronger. Heck, how did we get here? It was because trusted mentors and leaders believed in us and nurtured our gifts and taught us how to smooth out the rough edges. They were on our side! So what makes this so hard?

Well, there are a couple of reasons. One reason is that in addition to our desire to learn is a much more innate desire to be loved, accepted and respected. The very act of feedback suggests that maybe we aren’t. So we tense up, get snarly, become defensive. Hey, why can’t I just be accepted as I am? Why can’t I be okay? Getting feedback is at the crossroads of our desire to learn and grow and to be accepted and loved.

The Neuroleadership Institute has continued to bring research to us about the drop dead importance of being aware of STATUS. Every brain is sensing for the answer, “is it safe here?” As coach leaders we pay attention to how we begin these stressful conversations and we make sure the other person knows that we think they are working hard, desiring to be effective, and they are eager to think deeply about and continually master the craft of their profession!

By Kathy Kee, PCC

Witness the Struggle

Death and dying is not a comfortable topic for most.  It is often full of sadness and loss.   Its presence has been very real for me.   During the last few days, I have been with my Dad who is in his final stages.  At 99 he has lived a productive, joyful life and is very happy to be headed home to be with so many he loved who have gone before him.  As I stand beside him through this journey I have experienced many conversations that are new for me.  His caregivers tend to him, the hospice workers monitor his every change and all of these earthly angels talk to me about how I am doing.  One repeated message was so familiar… the message to me to stop trying to do…  just “witness his struggle.”

I wasn’t expecting to hear this phrase in this arena of life.  “Witness the struggle” is the amazing paraphrase and way of being I learned in 1982 from a wise psychologist working with our district teachers of gifted students.  In discussing how to deal with difficult people, discourteous people, or rude people he offered this powerful principle to me… “People rationally know you can’t give them all they want; they know you can’t always do what they want; but they demand that you “witness their struggle.”  How many hundreds of times have those wise words successfully impacted my life and career?   The parents who were so angry with a principal and simply hearing from his boss, “You are very angry and want his supervisors to know how unprofessional you believed he was,” to which complete calmness emerged.   The teenager who was emotionally distraught over an argument with her friend, “your friend has hurt you deeply,” to which emotion softened.   The teacher who is frustrated with the lack of motivation in her students, “You care so deeply for your students it makes you angry because you want more for them than they seem to want for themselves right now,” to which clarity emerged.

In this current sacred arena I find myself, “witness the struggle” seems to demonstrate once again its power.  The power to just “be” with others.  Not to fix, do, tell, advise… just be fully present in the situation and emotion of the time.  When my Dad seemed to be in pain, the whisper in his ear… “it’s hurting and you are wanting restfulness.”   The hospice angel saying to me, “You are so sad to lose him and yet you are celebrating his final hours with you.”  The nurse who tended him so lovingly saying to me, “the love and admiration the two of you have for each other is evident.”

From birth to death people want to have a voice, to matter and to be heard.  Releasing the need to do anything but simply “witness the struggle” is a gift that costs nothing and reassures every spirit by simply knowing I am heard, I matter, I am important.

by Kathy Kee, PCC
Coaching for Results Global