We are all in over our heads

by Brian Brittain on February 15, 2019


“We are all in over our heads”. –Robert Kegan, Harvard developmental psychologist.

What does this mean? Dr. Kegan’s observation is that the complexity of life and speed of change has far outstripped most of our individual capacities to deal with it. Therefore as individuals on our own, we will likely drown from the Tsunami of Change that is crashing our shores. Therefore we need to integrate as teams or communities of practice in order to increase our ability to respond effectively and adapt to this onslaught of change.

Integration starts with listening. Fran Leibowitz said, “The opposite of talking is not listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.” How true for me. I REALLY have to concentrate on listening (and not waiting or preparing) when someone is expressing themselves to me. For us to build intelligence and learning together, we have to learn to listen to each other and actually ask for input.

I am getting better at seeking first to understand, and not just to be understood. I have been practicing this for a few years now and this is what I do.

  1. I invite and ask for input. Tell me what you think about what I am doing? Tell me how you might approach this problem, and actually listen and absorb this.
  2. When someone is speaking to me, I take a breath and focus on my breathing, and staying in the conversation, not somewhere off in my head. I maintain eye contact and relax into my body.
  3. I listen on two levels, 1) the person, and 2) the voice in my head (am I just trying to be right? Win an argument? Get my way?) I try to shift my attention from the voice in my head and back to the person speaking.
  4. I summarize back what I heard and ask the speaker if I got it right.

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