The Art of Listening in a World that can’t stop Talking

‚Momo listened to everyone and everything… even to the rain and the wind and the pine trees – and all of them spoke to her after their own fashion’

The German writer Michael Ende published one of his masterpieces Momo in 1973. Momo is a little girl of mysterious origin, living in the ruins of an amphitheater just outside an unnamed city. She came to the ruin, parentless and wearing a long, used coat. She is illiterate and can’t count, and she doesn’t know how old she is. When asked, she replies, “As far as I remember, I’ve always been around.” She will be the one leading the fight against the Grey Men who aim to steal people the time.

I would strongly recommend all children to read this book with their parents! The stor

y is full of teaching – for all us – rushing through the days and continuously searching for an increase of efficiency. There is another very special thing about Momo, she has the extraordinary ability to listen—really listen. By simply being with people and listening to them, she can help them find answers to their problems, make up with each other, and think of fun games. It is a listening without judging which gives space to the other’s story to develop.

Transferring this to modern business theory, Claus Otto Scharmer, founder of the Presencing Institute and Senior lecturer at the MIT, is distinguishing four levels of Listening: downloading, factual, empathic and generative. To practice the deepest form of listening, we need to open mind, heart and will. It is in the generative level that we are able to give – like Momo – space to other’s story to develop.

Levels of Listening-OScharmer

Source: The Theory U, MITx ULab, Source Book, Otto Scharmer

Our Western societies tend to give more weight to the telling than the listening. In our culture, the man of action has been higher rated than the man of contemplation. Susan Cain, an American writer and lecturer, and author of the 2012 non-fiction book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking argues in her TED talk: The Power of Introverts that our Western culture misunderstands and undervalues the traits and capabilities of introverted people. With a clear focus on outgoing, exposure and group work, the society cuts the connection to main sources of creativity like solitude, quiet and wilderness. She mentions that a third to a half of the American population are originally introverts.

StoryWork as a facilitation approach integrates sensitive listening, passionate telling and co-creating, and therefore moves between the two worlds – the introverted and the extroverted. In my opinion, we all have extro- and introverted parts. Just that in our culture and especially in business and leadership context we tend to neglect the introverted one.

If we allowed ourselves more listening, more sensitivity, more creativity, we would not only dance smoother through life – we would also confront less burnout crisis and less dramatic organizational change processes.

So kiss frogs whenever possible, it is a healthy thing to do!

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