What is Generative Listening? And Why You Should Try It

 “We may help or fix many things in our lives, but when we serve, we are always in the service of wholeness.”
—Rachel Remen 

Do you feel overwhelmed by the scope of challenges facing us right now? Do you have the urge to put your head in the sand or launch into all the things you should (and couldn’t possibly) do to save the world? Do you long to meet the present honestly and look to the future with hope? I do. 

One option I’ve been exploring is called generative listening, a practice used in the field of systems change where it is vital to find new solutions and move forward together.

What is generative listening?

Generative listening is a type of mindful listening. Many of us are familiar with mindful listening in which we listen with an open mind and open heart to hear the truth of another. Mindful listening is a strong foundation for good relationships and skillful choices. Research shows teams with leaders trained in mindful listening are more likely to be happy and productive.

But, in the challenges we face today, mindful listening alone may not be enough. Mindful listening requires “me” to listen to “you.” And, when I listen to my across-the-aisle uncle I can hardly stand it. I just can’t find a way to appreciate his views.

So, how does mindful listening become generative listening? 

The first step is to change the context. Generative listening is not happening in a dyad. When we remember we are part of an interconnected web of life and are each expressions of a unified whole—we can expand the frame from you and me to us. When we listen from us we broaden to a more spacious awareness that includes the other, ourselves, and the space between. We listen to the field. 

Second, we shift what we’re listening for. We shift from trying to see the other person’s point of view or feel their experience to sensing what is becoming possible in the field. We listen for the emerging future. 

Generative listening nurtures the relationship while keeping the focus on possibilities rather than on the fight to change minds. 

How do we do it?

First, approach listening less like concentration meditation and more like open awareness practice.

Second, listen from the belly. When we listen from the eyes we’re looking for things to fix. When we listen from the heart we are feeling for ways to help. But when we listen from the belly we prioritize the subtle sensing of what is emerging and tune in to how we can serve. 

I find generative listening helps me stay centered and recognize what is mine to do and not to do. Usually, my part is something easier than I expected and something that supports my growth. And, doing it gives me faith that we will find our way forward together.

For more information and a chance to practice generative listening join Edi Pasalis for her upcoming program:

Edi Pasalis has been learning, growing, and serving through yoga for over 25 years. Prior to becoming a lead faculty member at Kripalu, Edi spent a decade on the Kripalu Leadership team which helped birth RISE™.

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