Sometimes we find that no matter how hard we work at something, we are not capable of achieving our goals. Our own experience and efforts are insufficient to the task. We realize that we need others. Other perspectives, other experiences, other energy to get it done. In these circumstances, we find that we need to collaborate. We need to bring our best, unique contributions together in a way that releases great synergies.
My colleagues and I have found in our field research in dozens of countries that this deep collaboration is best supported by three kinds of listening, each done twice in a continuous process, a process that we have come to call the O Process. These three kinds are intentional listening, relational listening, and imaginal listening. While there are many technical expressions of each of these forms of listening, here I will describe them briefly, what they do, and what they look like in practice.
Intentional listening. Listening for intent, for the deeper shared purpose, for the motivating will force common to the group that brings everyone together to achieve one bigger goal that requires all of us to participate. Here we listen for the “why” we are coming together. It is most useful when made explicit, and when everyone gets clear on what it is and whether it is important to them. When this deeper shared purpose is clarified, amongst all in the group, you have a very strong motivating force that also provides a container, a set of guidelines, for what is to be worked on as a group. As the group moves into working together, they now have a clear standard to check whether the group’s exploration serves this purpose or serves another purpose.
Relational listening. Listening for connection, for why each other individual in the group both (1) connects to the deeper shared purpose, and (2) what their unique contribution is to that purpose–why they care and why they are needed. Since you already listened for the deeper shared purpose, you are now listening for why you want to be deeply curious about and interested in what this person has to contribute to your ability to achieve the deeper shared purpose, after all their perspective is critical, which is why they are part of the group.
Imaginal listening. Listening for what possibilities the other people see from their unique perspectives. Since their contribution is unique to the group, it is different from yours. They are seeing something different, which begins to highlight different dimensions of the challenge the group is working on. Through your listening, you can begin to see an image of what they are seeing, you can begin to imagine it.
As we come to the top of the O Process, we have used three different kinds of listening, with clarity now on why the group has come together, why each person is needed and what they contribute, and now what they see. We can now begin to materialize–to tangibilize–what we see together. We can now use the same three kinds of listening again, to now tangibilize, to make tangible, the possibilities we saw together.
Imaginal listening, part 2. At one moment in the creative process of seeing possibilities together, we reach a point where we begin to see the same reality, and the possibilities converge into a probability. At this moment, we bring our imaginal listening to seeing what each unique perspective sees of the emerging probability. This emerging probability, which begins to feel real, has many different dimensions to it, which the different perspectives we have can help us see. What image can you begin to perceive, as you build up the different dimensions each person sees?
Relational listening, part 2. With a clearer image of what we are collectively looking at, from multiple perspectives, we can now begin to make this ours, to bring it into what we can each commit to. Since what we are now imagining is in service of the deeper shared purpose we started with, which part of what we are seeing is mine to take up? What part is yours to take up? This is where we again use relational listening, to listen for how we each relate to the emerging image, each from our own unique contribution.
Intentional listening, part 2. Now that we know how each of us is relating to what we saw together, we now move towards what we are going to each do, how we are going to each engage our own will, our own intentional force, to begin to do something to move this image into a reality. Here we use the intentional listening to hear what each of us is going to do, the actions that we need to take up, aligned with our new commitment to our unique contribution to the image we are realizing. What energy will I give to moving closer to the image we saw in service of the deeper shared purpose? What will you give?
In this process, we see why we are coming together to collaborate, what perspectives are needed, what they can see, what we can see together, what that begins to look like as we manifest it, what we can each commit to in realizing that image, and what we can each do. A great step forward in collaboration, supported by three kinds of listening, each used twice.