4 Levels of Listening by Otto Scharmer

BY Otto Scharmer
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The Four Levels of Listening are a key modality which we bring into the start of all of our transformational programs. As without listening at a deep level, we will never be able to understand what needs to transform.

Otto Scharmer and his team at MIT developed this theory when studying the interactions between individuals within an organisation. It is a useful model to understand growth areas of leadership skills and self-awareness, helping make systemic change. Scharmer states that many failures at work can come down to poor communication, or listening, and therefor a lack of deeper awareness and understanding. 

"Listening is important to us as individuals, not solely to leaders. If you are not a good listener, there is no way that you can develop real mastery in any discipline."

-Otto Scharmer

In additition to the 4 Levels of Listening Model, we use Scharmer's Theory U as the process for all of our Transformational Processes. 

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The Four Levels of Listening

Deep listening is the core capability as an Adaptive Leader. The way we listen to a person, or a situation determines how the system interacts and how it emerges. What’s your default? 

“Yeah, I know that already”- we are listening, but we are listening to reconfirm what we know and to reject what does not fit with what we know. This is only one way, based on the past. 

Attention is on your own story, focused on self. “I know that…”

“Ooh, look at that” – in this case, we are listening for facts and what may fit with or disconfirm data. Factual listening is what most of us have learned in our education and professions – we use our minds. If the facts are not available, we can be dismissive; it is what defines us as experts. I come from my own worldview.

You pay attention to the arguments and facts. “I think…”

“I’m feeling…” With empathy, there is a significant shift from where our listening originates. Connected with the heart, we are placing ourselves inside others’ views and feelings and listening from that place. Listening begins to happen from the other person. Coming from their world.

Your attention is with the other person’s view point and feelings. ”I feel…”

“I feel connected to something larger than myself”. Generative listening is using our sixth sense, intuition – our gut, to sense what is not being said. It emerges through the interconnectedness with others. In generative listening, we are listening with non-attachment, a selfless receptivity of others’ thoughts, connecting to one’s emerging authentic Self. 

Your attention is fully open, sensitive to anything emerging – open awareness. “I sense…”