<<< Back Posted: July 2017

Zippo Listening Going On

How many times have you caught yourself in conversation, but not listening at all? For most of us, this happens all the time! Our connected world bombards us with stimuli every day, all day. One result may be that it is more and more difficult to truly, deeply listen to one another.

In contrast, what distinguishes a coaching conversation from other kinds of conversation is the quality of listening offered by the coach. A professional coach in a coaching conversation is ideally listening all the time. Indeed, this is what a professional coach has been trained and certified to do.

In a recent Coaching Cube, I shared the first two layers of “The 3-Layer Model of Deep Listening” (inspired by Chapter 3 in the book Co-Active Coaching). The table below summarizes the essentials of that post:

Adapted from Chapter 3, Co-Active Coaching, by Laura Whitworth, Karen Kimsey-House, Henry Kimsey-House, Phillip Sandahl.

I have since asked a number of senior executives  when the last time was that they had listened at Level 2 – where 100% of their attention and focus was on the other person (and all other thoughts were gone) – and no one could remember! This made me realize that a whole layer must be missing from this model: I’ve created it, and named it Level 0: The Zippo Layer of Listening.

Level 1

Remember that listening at Level 1 is pretty egoistic: “It’s all about me, and what I want.”  Here are some examples of the kinds of thoughts that might be going through the listener’s mind at Level 1:

Level 0

Zippo Listening, on the other hand, finds us in conversation, but not listening at all!

How is Zippo Listening impacting our corporate world today? At an individual level, people can often sense when they are not being listened to, resulting in feelings of insignificance, lack of trust, and frustration. Time is wasted because information is simply not exchanged. When this is happening throughout the organization (and it very often is), you can imagine the immense financial cost to the business!

When we coach, we must offer the rare gift of listening deeply, be it to a senior executive, colleague, friend, or family member. Awareness of how we currently listen is the first step toward listening more deeply.

Assuming that you agree that listening at Level 0 (Zippo Listening) is not a great idea, how can we counteract this in ourselves? Well, we can start by leveraging some of the basics of coaching (and some might say ‘proper etiquette’):

Even if we listen at a mere Level 1, the person we are speaking with will know that we have at least heard their words. That’s a step in the right direction.

Listening in coaching takes place at Levels 2 and 3, fodder for a post in the near future!

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