“In real ways, we are invited each day to slow down and listen. But why listen at all? Because listening stitches the world together. Because listening is the doorway to everything that matters.”— spiritual teacher Mark Nepo
Your commitment to be a wellness leader means you are serving as a positive force for wellbeing. And when you take a lead in increasing the health and wellness of your friends, family and co-workers, you help reduce suffering and increase human vitality—an integral part of a bold global initiative, The Wellness Moonshot: A World Free of Preventable Disease. Yes, this commitment is audacious, yet much of its power depends on a quite unassuming gift: your capacity to listen.
Listening Is a Priceless Resource in Your Wellness Leadership Toolkit
With International Day of Friendship and World Population Day happening this month, there’s no better time to start listening. In fact, we can’t think of a situation where good listening cannot lead to greater connection, effectiveness and wellbeing. As examples…
…as a manager, you start attending to stressed-out comments from your team and realize people are nearing burnout. Perhaps your company experienced a recent crisis: The massive effort they gave during this time isn’t sustainable without harming their productivity; engagement; and physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
…as a wellness professional, when you listen to why your client is failing with an eating regimen that’s best for her, you finally understand: It isn’t about her willpower. She is not living or working in an environment that makes healthy foods the easiest choice.
…as a parent, by pausing to listen, you discover your son doesn’t want to go to school (a place he dearly loves) because he’s being bullied, not because he’s trying to be stubborn.
By genuinely listening—paying attention, actively perceiving and receiving information, hearing what’s said and, better yet, what’s unsaid—you can tap into untold wellbeing within you, as well as your family, team and organization. Listening helps you identify latent potentials in people, including yourself, plus find and nourish previously hidden seeds of health, happiness, creativity, and growth. Without a doubt, listening is as important a talent as creating an inspiring wellness vision and goals, solving thorny problems, and other wellness leadership skills.
Listening Is the Lifeblood of Healthy Relationships
Whether at home or work, listening empowers the biology of empathy and connection in our relationships. Real listening activates our mirror neurons, part of our neural basis for understanding each other more fully. Plus, it boosts oxytocin, a hormone that not only soothes our stress but also helps us create narratives about ourselves, each other and our situation that facilitate trust and healing. Research shows that good listening also builds our self-esteem, clarifies our thinking, and amplifies positive energy.
With the frenzied pace of our lives, however, we often forget to simply listen. For instance, although listening is a key ingredient when managers give feedback and coach employees, recent research shows this skill has the greatest room for leadership improvement. While listening is fundamental to learning, teaching listening as an active skill is often a major obstacle in education. And even with a commitment to curing sickness and disease, the average physician interrupts their patient within 14 seconds, potentially missing out on the three features of good doctoring: making an accurate diagnosis, fostering a positive doctor-patient relationship, and acting as a therapeutic agent.
The question is: Can listening help you be a better wellness leader?
Listening Begins with You
We are flooded with information 24/7, subject to our unexamined beliefs and inclinations to hear things in a habitual and selective way. An amazing assortment of cognitive biases shape how we listen. You may be asking, is it even possible to build your listening muscle? Absolutely.
Here are a few steps you can take in your relationships with family, team members, and wherever you lead wellbeing. The goal of these exercises is to ask yourself, “What impact could I have if I listened from a deeper level?
STEP 1: Identify your level of listening
There are at least four levels from which we listen, as identified by Laura Whitworth and my team at Wisdom Works. As you candidly reflect on yourself, which level typifies you? Don’t judge yourself too harshly if your answer is Level 1. (That’s the same for most of us.)
• Level 1: Internal Listening, or listening to your inner voice. (How is what he’s saying going to affect me?) The goal with this level is usually to speak, rather than listen.
• Level 2: Focused Listening, or listening to the other person. (What does she seem to be feeling? What seems to be motivating her?) At this level, you are listening to tune into the other person’s needs, aspirations or concerns.
• Level 3: Global Listening, or listening to the larger context. (What else is going on here? What does my intuition say about this?) You listen not only with your ears but also your eyes, body, feelings, intuitions and receptive mind—with the goal to fully understand.
• Level 4: Generative Listening, or listening as a creative act. (What is being born in this conversation?) At this level, your goal is to allow something new to emerge, perhaps a fresh idea or unearthed wisdom. You sit patiently in the “not knowing,” unthreatened by differences of opinion, to allow the act of listening to birth something original and worthwhile.
STEP 2: Practice listening at Level 2
Skills at this level, such as paraphrasing and clarifying, involve reflecting back to someone else what you saw, heard or understood from them. At this level, you’re making it plain to the person that you sincerely care about them.
STEP 3: Try listening at Level 3
Heighten your awareness of verbal, body and emotional cues (“I notice my jaw is tightening as we talk about this issue.”), pay close attention to your intuitions (“My gut tells me that we’re going in the right direction with this.”), and notice the background of the conversation (“The whole room seemed to settle down during this dialogue.”) Now, you’re using your whole being as an instrument of highly-aware listening.
STEP 4: Notice what emerges at Level 4
Consider the effort you’ve put into achieving your wellness vision and goals, your personal or shared Wellness Moonshot. Now, widen your field of attention. How are the challenges on your journey inviting you to continually lead wellness in mind, body and spirit? What opportunities to reach your vision and goals seem to be opening up naturally, without so much effort?
The Journey of Wellness is Never About You Alone
Celebrate how better listening is helping you lead wellness at home or work! During the week of the full moon, July 5–11, share your experience of practicing the four levels of listening with friends and colleagues on social media. Make sure to include #wellnessmoonshot, and we’ll spread your inspiration to the growing network of wellness leaders worldwide.
Think of each month’s Wellness Moonshot as a guide or “lesson plan” to empower wellness. Plus, invite others to join in The Wellness Moonshot! Our next step in this wellness leadership journey highlights how your ability to make clear choices can help you lead wellness at work, at home, and in your community.