Levels of listening






Pen, paper, computer



Otto Scharmer, leading researcher of systems innovation and social change processes at MIT, claims that the source of leadership failure Is very often a lack of listening and a lack of connecting with what is really going on. He identifies the skill of listening as the source of great leadership, and the foundation of professional mastery.

To address this, he has created a model identifying four levels of listening: habitual, factual, empathetic, and generative.

Different situations call for different kinds of listening. Being aware of and mastering the different levels of listening makes it possible to use each of them when it is most needed. For example, generative listening requires most internal resources, like time, openness, empathy, tolerance. At the same time, this kind of listening is conducive to innovation and emergent learning.


We use the 'levels of listening' framework to have a shared language about our listening practice, and the quality of attention we bring into the room. Identifying our patterns of listening and the effect these have in the spaces we are in. Becoming intentional about how we listen as a leadership skill.




Watch the video to introduce the framework


(25min) Solo reflection: Reflect on your past experiences - when have you engaged in the four different levels of listening?

Choose an example from your life or from the program for each level of listening. What was the situation? What affected how you listened in that situation? What was the result of listening in the way you did? When you are working with others, what percentage of your time are you engaging in these different ways? 1. saying what is true or safe or polite, and not listening to others? 2. saying what you really think, and listening to judge what is correct? 3. saying where you are coming from and listening to where others are coming from? 4. saying and listening to what you perceive to be emerging in your situation as a whole?

Which of these ways of acting feels most comfortable to you? Which feels least comfortable?

Is your use of these ways of acting different in different settingsβ€”for example, at home, at work, and in your community?


(20min) Share and discuss with your buddy.


(15min) Solo reflection: Think ahead to the situations where you are working with others during the following weeks, and what kind of listening you would like to practice. Guiding questions: What kind of listening do you want to practice, and when? What kind of listening is necessary for the situations you are in? What could help to do that, and what might make it difficult?


(20min) In group, everyone shares an insight or personal strategy from their insights.


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