Active listening is a technique that is good as far as it goes. And it surely has helped many of us to focus more on others’ discourse than on our own agenda and responses. Still, the very word “active” reflects our Three culture’s way of coming at the world. Perhaps listening might not be active but receptive. Not necessarily passive, but open.
I had never felt that openness until I started my Enneagram typing interviews when certifying as a professional in the Narrative tradition. I literally had to absent my own personality in order to truly take in another’s story. To just receive another as she experienced herself was revelatory and filled with grace.
Later, when I met new patients or acquaintances, I listened carefully for clues as to Enneagram type. Inadvertently, I heard more and said less. Often, others would share that they had “never felt so heard”. At first, I was embarrassed at my ulterior motive of ascertaining type. Then I began to see that if the Enneagram never gave us anything else; if it honed our ability to hear and empathize, it would be more than enough.
Still, in other areas, I had a long way to go in becoming a receptive listener. Particularly in the work arena, I liked to get things done. I despised long meetings where it seemed that everyone droned on and nothing was accomplished. (Yep, you caught me. Not a Social subtype.) My idea of hell is not rolling a stone up and down a mountain. It is a meeting that never ends.
Strangely enough, it was a meeting that changed my whole perspective and taught me one of my best lessons in the receiving side of communication.
I was attending the annual AETNT meeting (Association of Enneagram Teachers in the Narrative Tradition.) I was the editor for the Spirituality Track Newsletter and we had some important decisions to make. I had always been taught that a working group should be no larger than 5 or 6 people to “get the job done.”
The head of our Track had a different idea altogether. She thought it might be a lovely experiment to get a representative from each of the nine types to offer opinions from our various perspectives. Then she hoped we might reach a consensus in our decision making. I thought it was a disaster in the making, particularly since I already “knew” what the decisions should be. Did I mention that we only had a two hour lunch break in which to accomplish all this?
Still, we sat down together and set a clear intention to set aside any preconceptions and open to each viewpoint. What happened was simply astonishing. We came to consensus in 90 minutes. But the real surprise came when we debriefed the process. Each of us had changed our initial thoughts after hearing the other eight speak their piece.
We also felt that our decision was far better than any one of us could have crafted. I’ve not felt the same about listening in meetings since.
In that process, we felt that we had stumbled upon a most amazing methodology – incorporating all nine types into decision making and working groups. Okay, maybe not always practical, but what if we could move toward that? Might we all gain from bringing in the full spectrum of the nine types into any group decision? What if the introverts were encouraged to have as much say as the extroverts? How much better might our decisions be, with all varieties of input and full commitment from all participants?
Some of you doubtless have participated in an open listening process with all nine types; please share your experiences so we all might learn a little more. Leave a comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lynette Sheppard has taught the Enneagram for over 25 years. She is the author of “The Everyday Enneagram” and moderates the popular Everyday Enneagram Blog.