Why do we communicate?
Assuming that there is a purpose to communication other than merely passing time, it is usually towards the objective of getting something done. Even malicious gossip is aimed at an end goal. Without communication, there can be no learning.
In ancient India, the process of learning was defined as a three-part process of listening, reflecting to learn from what one listened to and putting the reflected learning into action. Listening was not confined to hearing or words alone; it was through all sensory perceptions.
Even those who do not agree with Mehrabian’s 7:38:55 percentage rule of word, voice and body roles in communication, most involved in this space, such as coaches, would agree that visual, auditory and kinesthetic sensory inputs play a large role in inspiring and influencing people. True listening is more than listening to words.
Steven Covey talks of five levels of listening: ignoring, pretending, selective, attentive and empathetic. Laura Whitworth is more coachlike in her classification of internal listening to understand and global listening. Many others have provided their own definitions.
Coacharya classifies listening in four ways.
LISTENING WITH THE HEAD
Much of the time our listening is cognitive. It is cerebral. We judge as we listen. We internally dialogue as we listen. We pass judgments and then collect evidence. We listen to words as they are spoken and interpret them through filters of our past experiences.
As long as the Head is involved in listening, we are looking at logic and sequential progression of thoughts. If you were to sit down quietly and pen your thoughts as they arise, you will find no logic. If you doubt this, just try. The mind jumps from one thought to another. Vivekanandacompared the mind to “a drunken monkey, stung by a scorpion and possessed by a demon.” The entire purpose of yoga is to still the movements of the mind.
Listening with the Head is inadequate and often dangerous in dealing with real-life situations that involve feelings.
LISTENING WITH THE HEART
Listening with the Heart is a higher level listening that is emotional. The listener not only listens to the words expressing the thoughts, but also observes the tone and pitch of voice, body movement, etc. The emotional nuances conveyed by the voice, facial expressions and body postures communicate much of what is essential.
Emotions do not lie; thoughts and words can and do. Emotions observed through somatic body experience are excellent lie detectors, far better than the somewhat unreliable method of watching eye movements. When we listen with the heart, we can hear the feelings.
Listening with the heart is the minimum level in coaching.
LISTENING WITH THE GUT
In order to progress to the next level of listening, we need to rise internally to a higher state of awareness. The “mindful” state that interprets sensory inputs can help us listen to words and emotions. Good to start with yet not enough when we need to explore internal barriers buried deep within.
There are three levels of intelligence (not contradicting Howard Johnson here): instinct, intelligent and intuitive. Mixing Maclean’s triune theory of the brain with this, the R complex deals with instinct, the limbic with intelligence and the prefrontal cortex with the intuitive. We are not establishing a scientific theory here, merely proposing a simple model to understand intuition.
Instinct is about primal behavior based on memories stored deep in our unconscious triggering our flight or fight responses that are essential for survival. Intelligence is about interpreting these memories through what Freud describes as “ego” both rationally and emotionally, something that serves us well most of the time. Intuition is about what we don’t know, we have no memory base for, and yet perceive as likely to happen in future. Meditation is a great process to enhance intuition.
Coaching mastery is about intuition. It is about not knowing why you feel a particular way after listening with your gut and yet convinced that what you feel is important.
LISTENING WITH ENERGY
When we integrate these three levels of listening with head, heart and gut and add a little something more, we reach holistic communication at energy level. There is no way to describe this. Those who have been there know it.
Often, I know when I am training or group coaching, which is often more complex than coaching one person, I know when someone is about to ask a question and often what it is about. Without even looking at the group, I have an idea of how well I am carrying them with me. It is not always positive!
Several others I have talked to, who have dealt with groups for a long time, talk about feeling the energy of the group and persons. This is the integration of all the sensory perceptions but without the filters of judgment. This happens when we manage to be disengaged with the purpose of our communication and surrender to the flow of the movement in the moment.
When we listen and, therefore, communicate at the energy level, we no longer converse and communicate; we commune at a far deeper level. Once experienced, it is not a skill you would like to let go.
Ram Ramanathan is a leadership coach and trainer and spiritual wanderer, blending Eastern spiritual wisdom with modern psychological and neurobiological knowledge to create mindless awareness.