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Unlocking Transformative Leadership Potential: The Power of Generative Listening Hosted by Brent Robertson

In this Superstruct Webinar, hosted by Rache Brand, CEO of Superstruct Advisors, Brent Robertson from Be Generative joins to discuss the importance of listening and effective communication in both personal and professional contexts. The episode explores how Brent’s approach to leadership and organizational growth is deeply rooted in the quality of conversations and the role of listening in shaping these conversations.





Transcript:

Introduction by Rache Brand:

Rache Brand (5:32): Hello everyone, and welcome to Generative Listening as part of our Superstruct Webinar series. I’m Rache Brand, CEO of Superstruct, and today we have a special guest, Brent Robertson from Be Generative. I met Brent about four years ago when I first moved to Connecticut, and I was immediately impressed by his agency's focus on growth and branding. Between 2020 and now, Brent has evolved into a remarkable leader, and his journey is a testament to his unique approach to branding and selling.


Rache Brand (7:09): Brent’s insights into listening and having better conversations have been transformative, not only for businesses but also for personal relationships. I attended one of his workshops where he emphasized the importance of listening both to the external world and to our inner selves. This experience was pivotal for me, leading to significant changes in my personal and professional life.


Rache Brand (8:01): Brent has shared his exercise in various formats, including TED talks and over 60 presentations for the VISTAGE community. It’s been fascinating to watch his journey, and I’m thrilled to introduce you to Brent Robertson, a friend and colleague who has partnered with us at both Superstruct and Be Generative.


Interview with Brent Robertson:

Brent Robertson (14:51): Well, great to see everyone. I’m excited to share what has become an extraordinary practice that I have brought all over North America over the past three years. For some background, I am the co-founder of Fathom, which is celebrating its 20th year. Throughout this journey, I’ve been deeply curious about how organizations, particularly the human systems within them, spend their cycles of energy.


About Generative Listening and Leadership in Organizations

Brent Robertson (16:12): Conversations play a crucial role in the productivity of organizations. The quality of these conversations directly impacts results. This realization led me to explore the dynamics of conversations and the importance of listening. Organizations are essentially built on conversations; they exist in language. Every business starts with a promise made and delivered through conversation.


"Organizations are essentially built on conversations; they exist in language. Every business starts with a promise made and delivered through conversation." – Brent Robertson

Word Bubbles

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Brent Robertson (17:17): Strategic planning or visioning are intentional conversations aimed at creating a new state of existence for organizations. These conversations shape our organizations and lives. The precursor to conversations is listening. Our ability to listen shapes the conversations we have, which in turn shape our lives and organizations. To change our organizations or lives, we must start with changing how we listen.


Brent Robertson (18:41): As I began to work with other leaders, I noticed that changing the listening within an organization radically improved its performance. I've been instrumental in shaping conversations that have led to some of the fastest-growing and most impactful organizations across various industries, from manufacturing to healthcare to faith-based organizations.



Breaking Down Generative Listening

Brent Robertson (19:04): I realized that traditional listening training is woefully inadequate. Listening is often taught as a set of skills, but skills alone don’t address why we are listening or help us tap into our full listening capacity. This led me to develop a completely different approach to listening, which I brought to the world about three years ago. This approach quickly became the top program in the world's largest leadership organization and is now a TED talk. There’s an entire business, Be Generative, being built around it, launching soon.


Brent Robertson (19:21): Generative listening is about more than just hearing words. It’s a practice that energizes people and possibilities. It creates conversations that leave us with more energy, passion, clarity, and confidence. Generative listening is about creating conditions for these powerful conversations whenever we want. On average, executives waste $100,000 a year in unproductive conversations. Just by examining how we use our conversation time and how we listen, there's a huge ROI.


Brent Robertson (23:31): Listening is a practice, not about skill mastery. It’s one of the most life-giving practices one can take on. What if listening were our capacity to receive the incredible experiences happening around us? We live in a time of listening deprivation, moving so quickly that we miss out on valuable experiences. Listening is a precious resource, and we should consider how to use it more carefully.


"Listening is a practice, not about skill mastery. It’s one of the most life-giving practices one can take on." – Brent Robertson

Brent Robertson (24:02): Treat listening as a spring-fed reservoir that can be quickly used up but takes time to refill. Recognize when listening is or isn’t available. If you can't fully listen, be honest about it. For example, if you don't have the listening capacity at the moment, say so and suggest a better time. This honesty shows respect and sends a powerful message.


Brent Robertson (26:12): How do you feel when someone pretends to listen but isn't? It feels frustrating and sends the message that you don’t matter. On the other hand, fully listening to someone demonstrates that they matter. Listening is the single most powerful investment you can make in another human being. It fulfills the human need to be seen, heard, appreciated, and known.


Brent Robertson (26:59): To gain respect for your listening and earn the respect of others, be intentional about your listening. Before starting a conversation, clarify your intent and what kind of listening you need. This allows the other person to prepare and engage meaningfully. For example, if you need to vent, let the other person know. If you need help with a blind spot, ask for that specific kind of listening. This clarity enhances the effectiveness of the conversation.


Brent Robertson (34:35): If any of you have people interrupting your day, know that every interruption costs you 20 minutes to get back into a deep thought or flow state. To manage this, before starting a conversation, ask the person about their intent and how you can be a good listener for them. This approach can shape more meaningful interactions and respect everyone's time.


Brent Robertson (34:40): At Fathom, we have a policy: don’t expect anyone to attend a meeting without a clear intention statement. Not just an agenda, but the purpose of the meeting. This clarity often reduces the number of necessary meetings. For example, if you’re a leader with a team requesting your time, make sure they communicate the intent and what part you need to play. This can save a lot of time and ensure that meetings are productive.


Brent Robertson (34:59): Another key concept is speaking only into the listening available. This means understanding the audience's capacity to listen before speaking. By meeting them where they are, you can effectively communicate and gradually expand their listening capacity. It gives me instant feedback on what kind of listening is in the room.




Archetypes of Listening

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Listening as a Precious Resource

Brent Robertson (34:40): By asking people about their listening, you can tailor your message to their capacity and push them beyond their initial state. Treating listening as a precious resource allows us to be more intentional and effective in our interactions.


Brent Robertson (34:59): Generative listening involves understanding that each of us has a cast of characters that do our listening for us. These characters, like the fixer or the wounded warrior, shape how we interpret conversations. Being mindful of which listener is present can help us engage more appropriately.


Brent Robertson (36:12): One common type is the fixer, who sees the world as a problem to solve. This can be helpful, but it’s not always the right approach. For example, if someone just wants to be heard, the fixer’s approach can be counterproductive. Another type is the wounded warrior, who is defensive due to past experiences.


Brent Robertson (36:59): There’s also the curious listener, who is captivated by the wonder of the conversation. Another useful type is the 10% right listener, who seeks the small bit of truth in every idea. On the other hand, listening for fit involves only hearing what agrees with our worldview, which can be limiting and divisive.


Brent Robertson (38:40): Listening story is another archetype, where we trap people in our preconceived notions of them. This restricts our ability to see their growth and change. It’s crucial to be aware of these listening types and strive to usher them off the stage to be fully present.


Brent Robertson (40:00): The final principle is understanding that for anything new to come into existence, it needs a void. Moments of silence or pockets of possibility allow for new ideas and connections to emerge. In our busy lives, creating space is essential for contemplation and meaningful interactions.


"For anything new to come into existence, it needs a void to do so. Moments of silence or pockets of possibility. We need a place of quiet in which we can bring something new into existence." - Brent Robertson

Brent Robertson (42:00): Listening creates this void, opening up space for new ideas and deeper connections. We come into existence for ourselves through the listening of others. By giving someone your full attention, you create an opportunity for them to express themselves in ways they might not have before.


Brent Robertson (45:36): We tend to have the same conversations and ask ourselves the same questions repeatedly, leading us to the same rooms talking about the same things. Occasionally, though, we get asked a question that stumps us and encourages us to explore new territory. This space allows us to discover something about ourselves we didn't know was there. Listening can help others come to understand themselves in a much deeper way.


Brent Robertson (46:12): Imagine that the key to unlocking your future is inside the person standing next to you. How would you listen to them? How curious would you be? What questions would you ask? For example, ask someone about a belief they hold dearly that animates their life. This question opens up a new room of conversation, revealing treasures about yourself and the other person.



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"Imagine that the key to unlocking your future is inside the person standing next to you.
How would you listen to them?
How curious would you be?" – Brent Robertson


Created with DALL•E


Brent Robertson (47:35): Using the power of our listening can move conversations and ourselves into new states of existence. Leaders who practice this discover their immense capacity for impact. They achieve more with less effort by understanding and utilizing the insights gained through generative listening.


Brent Robertson (48:45): As a provocation, consider having a conversation of a lifetime in the next 24 hours. Think about everything you ever wanted being on the other side of a conversation. Reflect on the conversations that have shaped your life and imagine the potential of the hard conversations you may be avoiding.


"What if everything you ever wanted was on the other side of a conversation?
Use listening as a powerful investment to create the space for a conversation of a lifetime." – Brent Roberston

Brent Robertson (49:12): Use this as an opportunity to share insights with those in your life. Acknowledge if you’ve been using up all your listening at work and not leaving much for your family. Make a commitment to give the best of your listening to your loved ones and make it a non-negotiable ritual.


Brent Robertson (49:50): Have meaningful conversations with employees, providing necessary feedback and showing how important they are to you. Listening is a powerful investment in another human being, creating space for transformative conversations.


Ichi-Go Ichi-E

Brent Robertson (50:30): Consider the Japanese idiom "Ichi-go Ichi-e," meaning "one moment, one lifetime." Every moment is unique and cannot be repeated. This concept should remind us to listen deeply and cherish each interaction as an opportunity for profound connection and discovery.


Brent Robertson (51:45): Live in language; how we describe our experiences shapes our reality. By listening deeply, we can transform how we experience our lives and organizations. It all starts with our listening.


Brent Robertson (52:30): I'll stop here and open the floor for questions. This has been just a glimpse of the generative listening practice. There are workshops available that delve deeper into these concepts, including navigating critical conversations more effectively.


This podcast episode offers valuable insights into the power of listening and its potential to transform personal and professional relationships. Brent Robertson’s innovative approach to generative listening provides practical strategies for enhancing communication and unlocking new possibilities.






Key Focus Areas of Generative Listening

  1. Generative Listening: A practice that energizes people and possibilities, creating conversations that leave participants more inspired, confident, and with greater clarity.

  2. Listening as a Precious Resource: Treat listening as a limited and valuable resource that needs to be managed carefully and used intentionally.

  3. Setting Clear Intentions: Before starting a conversation, clarify the intent and desired outcome to ensure meaningful and productive interactions.

  4. Listening for the Listening: Tailor communication to the audience's capacity to understand and engage, meeting them where they are and gradually expanding their listening capacity.

  5. Understanding Different Listening Types:

    1. The Fixer: Sees the world as a problem to solve.

    2. The Wounded Warrior: Defensive due to past experiences.

    3. The Curious Listener: Captivated by the wonder of the conversation.

    4. The 10% Right Listener: Looks for the small bit of truth in every idea.

    5. Listening for Fit: Hears only what agrees with their worldview.

    6. Listening Story: Traps people in preconceived notions, restricting their ability to see growth and change.

    7. Listening for Identity: Engage deeply to understand the true identity of the person you are conversing with, beyond their role or title.

  6. Creating Space for New Ideas: Recognize that new ideas need a void or moments of silence to come into existence, and use listening to create this space.

  7. The Power of Questions: Use questions to open new rooms of conversation and discover hidden treasures about oneself and others.

  8. Transformative Conversations: Engage in conversations that can unlock new possibilities and significantly impact personal and professional growth.

  9. Ichigo Ichie: Embrace the uniqueness of every moment and interaction, understanding that each one is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for meaningful connection.


Step-by-Step Guide to Generative Listening

  1. Prepare Yourself Mentally and Emotionally

    1. Create Space: Before engaging in a conversation, take a moment to clear your mind. This might involve deep breathing, meditation, or simply a few moments of silence.

    2. Set Intentions: Decide what you hope to achieve from the conversation. Are you looking to understand, solve a problem, or build a relationship?

  2. Clarify the Purpose

    1. State Intentions: Before starting the conversation, clearly communicate your intentions. For example, “I’d like to discuss how we can improve our project’s workflow. What are your thoughts?”

    2. Ask for Their Intentions: Encourage the other person to share their goals for the conversation. For instance, “What do you hope to get out of this discussion?”

  3. Engage Fully

    1. Eliminate Distractions: Ensure that you are in an environment where you can give your full attention. Put away your phone, close unnecessary tabs on your computer, and minimize background noise.

    2. Active Listening: Use body language to show you are engaged. Maintain eye contact, nod in agreement, and lean in slightly to show interest.

  4. Practice Deep Listening

    1. Listen Without Judgement: Avoid formulating your response while the other person is talking. Focus entirely on what they are saying.

    2. Be Curious: Ask open-ended questions that encourage deeper responses. For example, “Can you tell me more about how you came to that conclusion?”

  5. Reflect and Validate

    1. Paraphrase and Summarize: Repeat back what you heard in your own words to confirm understanding. For instance, “So, if I understand correctly, you’re saying that the main issue is the lack of clear communication?”

    2. Acknowledge Emotions: Recognize and validate the other person’s feelings. “It sounds like you’re feeling frustrated with the current process.”

  6. Explore New Possibilities

    1. Encourage Exploration: Ask questions that prompt the other person to think more deeply or from a new perspective. “What other approaches might we consider to solve this issue?”

    2. Invite Innovation: Create a safe space for brainstorming and sharing new ideas. “What’s a solution that might seem unconventional but could work?”

  7. Close the Conversation Thoughtfully

    1. Summarize Key Points: Recap the main points of the conversation and any agreed-upon actions. “To summarize, we’ve decided to implement a new communication tool and revisit its effectiveness in a month.”

    2. Express Gratitude: Thank the other person for their time and input. “Thank you for sharing your insights. I appreciate your perspective and look forward to seeing how these changes will help.”

  8. Reflect and Improve

    1. Self-Reflection: After the conversation, take a moment to reflect on how it went. What went well? What could be improved?

    2. Seek Feedback: Ask the other person for feedback on the conversation. “I’m working on improving my listening skills. Was there anything I could have done better during our discussion?”

Additional Tips

  • Practice Regularly: Generative listening is a skill that improves with practice. Make a habit of practicing these steps in various interactions.

  • Be Patient: Change takes time. Be patient with yourself and others as you develop this new way of listening.

  • Stay Open-Minded: Always be open to learning and adapting your approach based on feedback and experiences.

By following these steps, you can begin cultivating the practice of generative listening, which can lead to more meaningful and productive conversations.



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