Leaders who listen differently dwell in possibility

Yesterday I delivered an epic, long post about being a wedding DJ and what it taught me about leadership. I promised to deliver on how other people can learn to ‘feel the room, play with the outliers, and let go of expertise’. Essentially, what it all boils down to is learning how to listen. And this is a different kind of listening. How do you learn to direct your attention away from the obvious, normal things like the music and shift it to the audience?  How do you learn to listen to and play with the music of the outliers? How do you expand the range of the ‘data’ you listen to? How do you learn to listen differently?

Listening might not be the right word

And yet, somehow it works. I’ve said this recently in another post. Our multiple senses provide us with constant information, much of which we don’t register consciously. Our systems process this information in a cycle, which involves arousal, resistance, contact and withdrawal. This cyclical response to stimulus dominates our activity. And the movement from stimulus to arousal to contact and ultimately to withdrawal moves like a wave. Sound, as far as we know, is also a wave. Listening is thus an apt metaphor.

Preverbal motors

These simulations of the arousal system are like motors. Motors that happen more quickly than cognition. Many happen whether we want them to or not. Want to see a preverbal motor in action? Hide behind a bush. Wait for a stranger to walk past. Jump out. Say ‘Boo’. Hope they are not armed. Observe the result. The result? The ‘startle’ reaction? A preverbal motor.

I am a therapist and I am an addict

Addiction is another preverbal motor. I’m addicted to surfing. I love it. When I know I’m going surfing, I change on a physiological and preverbal level. I get excited. My breath, heart rate, and complexion all change. I know I’m getting to surf. My body starts to get ready for the endorphins, adrenaline and all the other delicious chemicals it craves so much. If you want to get in touch with your preverbal motors, observe/listen/attend to the physiological sensations you have before you do something that really lights you up. Something that you’re addicted to.

That sinking feeling

Preverbal motors are also connected to what I described as “personal resistance to the creative process of letting go of expertise”. That’s an unnecessarily complicated way of saying “That sinking feeling”. You know? In your gut. The feeling you get when under pressure to perform a task. Do you try something new? Do you risk embarrassment, humiliation or loss of work by letting go of your expertise and venturing into the unknown? Do you find that you’d like to let go of your expertise and try something new but find you can’t? Try this: Next time you have that sinking feeling of doubt, that sensation of impending doom, that moment of: I’ve got a bad feeling about this, put your hands on the part of your body this is coming from and say: “Thank you.” That feeling is there to protect you from the pain of humiliation. That feeling might help you keep your job. After saying “Thank you,” look around. How much threat are you under? What’s the worst thing that could happen if you tried something different? If you can live with the consequences, it might be an opportunity to move beyond that resistant feeling. You might not need to be kept safe.

And, in many cases, this is easier said and done. It can take time to reach the point where you have enough of a safe feeling to move beyond that anxiety. Keep working. Change takes time. Keep working. Identify your supports. Who can handle you while you make this change? Is there a therapist, clergy member or mentor available to you? Is there another person for you to attune to their felt sense of safety? Connection with and compassion from another person can be very helpful

Off you go

Once you can listen to the the different and sometimes conflicting messages in your body, you can weigh your excitement against your resistance. Then, you can potentially take a chance. Make a move. Try something. Create something. The change you make will be made with more awareness of the forces at work in your body. These forces are there to prepare you for battle, get you going, slow you down, and ultimately keep you safe. If you can attend to these sensations, listen to their messages and abide by their magnitude, you can dwell in possibility. Your life becomes one of choice.

What are you waiting for? Allons-y!

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