Listening Generously… or by Default?

If you woke up at 6:00 this morning, your default listening woke up at 5:45, and it already has your whole day planned.

Default listening’s primary job is to keep you from dying, so it tends to be rather self-important. In order to keep you alive, it identifies “threats” (real or imagined) in order to protect you. It does this by filtering all incoming information so you can make decisions, informed by interpretations, based on your beliefs, which are backed up with historical evidence.

Ultimately, it shapes your reality.

“Default Listening Model,” from the Momentum Consulting Coaching Workbook

Our Default Listening Model (above) attempts to illustrate this. It shows us an interesting survival mechanism in our brain that’s always on. Rooted in our personal core values, it’s the mechanism that sets up our belief system, our risk assessments, our morals, and other strategic ideas, all on the basis of trying to survive.

When we experience a core value violation, our default listening kicks into overdrive, and our reaction to stimulus can be severe. The drive to obey these default emotions can be seductively strong, but there is another option. 

By responding mindfully with generous listening we can literally save lives.

It’s fair to say we are living in strange times. Up until a few months ago, most of us had very few actual day-to-day threats to our mortality. Oddly we now all share a threat (written during the Covid-19 Quarantine of 2020). 

Recently, some folks entered the capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, with guns, protesting the governor’s COVID-19 restrictions. Clearly they were responding to what they saw as a threat. 

My belief is that they had no wish to hurt people. I believe their intention was to make sure their point was heard. 

If that’s true, think about that for a minute. These are adults resorting to armed confrontation against state government due to their experience of not being listened to. I can understand this reaction. Has your mind ever wandered toward some unsavory act of vengeance due to a core value violation like being disrespected or betrayed?

I know mine has. 

Of course, fantasizing about punching out the guy who stole my girlfriend in high school and actually taking guns to the capitol are two different things, but the mechanism is the same. For some of us, it’s easy to judge their actions as inappropriate and extreme. And for others of us, it’s easy to imagine storming our own capitol with our own militia buddies. We’ve all been in situations where we didn’t feel like anyone was listening to us, and are ready to lose control because of it. 

Again, by responding mindfully with generous listening we can save lives.

Listening generously is an alternative to the drive of survival and defense.

It’s a gift to others, to the universe, and to our selves. It’s not something we have to do, but it is a choice we can make. 

Just like the air we breathe, this crisis is something we all share. 

One last story:

A friend of mine who’s running for office was recently asked about an outspoken opponent of his and what such a disruptive and contentious personality plays in local politics. My friend said that we need him. We need people like that because he plays the role of the “unlistened to.” He’s the upset child in all of us who’s not getting his way, on the verge of a meltdown in the grocery aisle.

We’ve all been there. 

Listening generously is not about condoning bad behavior. It is about stepping up our accountability in the matter. It’s about taking a moment to check in with others who don’t agree with us, and attempting to see what’s important to them. Some of them are our lifelong enemies, and some of them are at the table during Thanksgiving dinner.

Peggy Noonan from today’s Wall Street Journal states: “This is no time to make our divisions worse. The pandemic is a story not only about our health but our humanity.

We’re all in this life together, and none of us are getting out alive.

What’s it like for you when no one’s listening to you?

How do you behave when that happens, and what does that get you?

We’d really like to know.


Fundamental of the Week #2: LISTEN GENEROUSLY. Give others your full attention, be present and engaged and set aside the internal conversation in your head as best you can.  Let go of your need to agree, disagree, or judge.  Be empathetic and listen for the needs of others. Listen with curiosity and make sure you get all the facts, separating facts from interpretations.


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