Are You Really Listening?
In the world of workplace team development, a common concept to explore with teams is active listening. Much attention has been paid in the business world to what is defined by Whitworth and colleagues as the Three Levels of Active Listening.
The Three Levels of Active Listening explain how much attention we pay to another person and how we use the data from the conversation. The three levels are:
- · Level I – Internal Listening. We hear the words of the other person, but the focus is on what it means to us. At this level we listen to meet our own needs for information. We focus on our own thoughts and opinions and don’t really listen to the other person’s needs. The focus is on our own thoughts about the conversation, such as what thoughts or feelings am I having as the other person talks? What opinions do I have about what I am listening to? What would I like to say next?
- · Level II – Focused Listening. The attention is focused on the other person. The intent of listening at this level is to develop a better understanding of the person. The focus is completely on what the other person is saying and what it means. We seek deeper understanding by asking questions that clarify what the other person means and don’t focus on how we feel or what we want to say next.
- · Level III – Global Listening. You listen not only for words but observe whatever other information you can take in about the person and the environment around you both, such as their emotions, energy, and body language. As Michael Warden says: “Level 3 is where intuition and insight often live. It’s where new awareness often first shows up, and the possibility for profound change. If you think about it, it makes sense that Level 3 is often the most powerful kind of listening a leader can employ because the transformational potential of any conversation is typically not just about what’s happening in me or what’s happening in you; rather, it’s about what’s happening in us.”**
It strikes me that these three levels of active listening are very relevant to horse and rider teams. If you are listening at level 1, as you ride your mind is filled with thoughts like: I wonder if I am straight in the saddle? I think we are doing this right. Next I want to work on this movement.
If you are listening at level 2, you will listen to the movement of the horse beneath you. You will read your horse’s body language such as the position of his ears, the tossing of his head or how much tension he is carrying in his neck. You will focus on what he is trying to tell you.
But level 2 is not enough to truly ride in partnership. It’s not enough to listen to your horse to understand that he is holding tension somewhere. Because the cause of the tension might be you and a particular way you are using your body. As riders we need to listen at level three and understand how the bodies of horse and rider are moving together and how each body impacts the movement of the other, how the energy is shared between two beings, how the connection between horse and rider changes within the ride, how the external environment impacts your ability to communicate.
The next time you ride, notice how you listen. And then actively practice the different levels to see how it changes your ride. Practice level 2 by focusing on your horse and his body language and movement. For example, in the trot, how rhythmic are his steps, does his back feel free, is he reaching softy into the bridle to take contact with your hand, are his ears relaxed? And then practice level 3 by expanding your awareness of how you are moving together and how your movement can influence each other.
For example, consider the sitting trot. Level 3 listening might go something like this: as his back swings my seat bones are being moved by the motion of his back. Freeing the movement of my hip joints further enables him to free his back more and together we get a softer, more engaged trot. I feel the power coming from his hind end and he feels my receiving, consistent hand that he finds pleasing enough to drop his head take gentle contact with my hand. Together we are enjoying moving together and neither of us is blocking the other’s movement.
Learning to actively listen at level 3 when you ride will take your riding to a whole new level.
*Laura Whitworth, Henry Kimsey-House, and Phil Sandahl: Co-Active Coaching (Mountain View: Davies-Black Publishing, 1998), p.9