Yesterday, I mentioned the importance of asking the right questions, especially with regard to managing change and preparing for a commitment to change. Today, I want to talk about the other side of that equation: listening. Otto Scharmer, in Theory U, suggests four levels of questions that reveal your commitment to change. Scharmer describes the first level of listening as "downloading" (Scharmer, 2009, p.11). At this stage, the listener is only marginally listening. Instead of engaging with the speaker, the listener that is "downloading" only hears the things that reinforce their existing assumptions. Do you think the project will fail? Then you'll only hear the risks. Convinced that the change will be a huge success and everyone will accept the process? You'll only hear the benefits and ignore the risks. If you find yourself in a conversation and you only hear things that confirm or reinforce your existing feelings, then you're just downloading. If you can move past downloading, you'll find yourself engaging in "factual listening" (Scharmer, 2009, p.12). This is the first stage of truly listening: you're no longer looking for confirmation or reinforcement of your beliefs, you're looking for the ideas and data that differs from your beliefs. Maybe you think this new project could be successful, but you know you don't have the full picture. Then you engage in factual listening. This type of listening is the first step of learning. Before you can learn, you must understand that there are things you do not know, or that are incorrect as you understand them. "Factual listening" is how we listen when we're interested in challenging ourselves to grow. As you grow beyond wanting to learn by listening, you transition into "empathetic listening" (Scharmer, 2009, p.12). Here, you're no longer solely concerned with learning. If you find yourself here, you want to engage in dialogue with others. The first two stages are types of self-centric listening. You are either listening to confirm your feelings, or to learn more about a situation for yourself. As you progress into "empathetic listening" you will find a desire to learn about others. This is where, Scharmer says, "we forget about our own agenda and begin to see how the world unfolds through someone elses eyes" (Scharmer, 2009, p.12). Finally, Scharmer's highest level of listening is "generative listening", or "listening from the emerging field of the future" (Scharmer, 2009, p.13). These are the transformational listening experiences. No longer do you listen for yourself, or even to hear the soul of another. Listening in this stage causes profound realignment, or even rebirth, of you. You question who you were, or maybe you become clear that you are no longer who you were before listening. Some could compare this stage to becoming a parent; you instantly know that you will never be the same person. For me, this kind of transformation has happened when I was trying to download information, as in Stage 1, and realized that I was completely wrong. When I slowed down and actually listened to the other person, I heard much more. More than just the facts I wanted confirmed. More than facts that I did not know. More, even, than the ability to connect with this other person. Instead, I heard, or maybe felt is a better word, a seismic shift in my world. This has happened professionally and personally. I can't explain it exactly, but it felt like working a key in an old lock. There's tension, a little wiggling, but then...things line up perfectly and you can turn the key. That is generative listening. That is where you really get to the bottom of who you are and what drives you. So, what kind of listening do you use?