You’ve been hearing a lot about the growth mindset from your executive leadership. The hallmark belief of this mindset is that talents and capabilities can be developed through hard work, smart strategies, and feedback from others. Holding this belief pushes people to approach new experiences and ideas with curiosity and a robust desire to learn. I invite you to approach your CCO experience in this vein. Get curious and explore. You don’t have to buy any of these ideas; just try them out and see what ends up being useful to you.
Stepping into the growth mindset will require skillful listening. Why? Listening is one of the key ways we direct our attention. Where we focus our attention impacts how reality takes shape for us and what is possible for the organizations we are a part of.
There are many ways you can choose to listen. Let’s look at understanding this more deeply through a framework developed at MIT’s Theory U.* Theory U posits different levels of listening, each progressively more skillful than the previous level. The first level we’ll discuss here is habitual listening. In habitual listening, information heard is used solely to reconfirm what the listener already knows.
Essentially, habitual listening is about letting our habits drive what we see, hear, and experience when interacting with others. The listener can’t get the full picture because they are listening only to confirm or disconfirm their own established theories. This renders new information invisible. In a nutshell, this is a way to “armor” against new information, which traps the listener in a world of their own preconceived notions.
A developmentally more advanced form of listening, what MIT’s Theory U calls factual listening, is a more open way to listen. The listener absorbs facts even when those facts contradict the listener’s existing theories. With factual listening, the listener allows the listening act to move them beyond their own experiences. This way of listening allows listeners to be tuned in to a more objective version of reality and to be less bound by the preconceived ideas that have such a firm grip on the habitual listener.
Throughout my working life, I have learned that when it comes to understanding one another, we must focus on what we don’t know, not what we think we do know or should know. We must resist the temptation to shut down, to react reflexively or to judge others…. It is a discipline that is difficult to achieve — but one that is well worth the effort.
There are additional levels of listening but we’ll stop here for now. Many of us spend a whole lot of time in habitual listening, perhaps even most of our lives. We’ll get into why in Week 3 (Belief vs. Fact — Short-Circuiting Reality), but for now, the point to take away is this:
- The limitations of habitual listening are clear.
Habitual listening drives us to interpret information in a self-serving manner. When we live from this place, says Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School and affiliate with the Mind, Brain, Behavior Initiative at Harvard, “we tend to prioritize information that supports our existing beliefs and to ignore information that challenges them, so we overlook things that could spur positive change. Complicating matters, we also tend to view unexpected or unpleasant information as a threat and to shun it — a phenomenon psychologists call motivated skepticism.”
The growth mindset, in contrast, invites us to see the limitations of mental habits like habitual listening and motivated skepticism, and to choose something different for ourselves. To do so requires more skillful listening, which begins with curiosity and a desire to learn. Why not take on the challenge of suspending old habits and set your mind to evolving your listening with this program?
- You can start right now: Assume there’s something here for you to get, and strive for the learning!
*Theory U is a ten-year MIT initiative that has developed a consciousness-based approach to leadership and change; it posits that “the quality of the results we can create in any social system – including work organizations – is a function of the quality of awareness, attention, or consciousness that the participants in the system operate from.” For more on Theory U’s four levels of listening, see Four Levels of Listening)