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Our mood, our experiences, our levels of reasoning—all determine how we listen, and how well with listen.

We can playfully consider these brain modes that may be driving our listening:

  • The Buddy Brain – the Buddy Brain is concerned with making sure everyone is happy, that everyone is being nice to one another, and that everyone is getting along. Our allegiances and preferences for certain relationships can get in the way of listening. For example, hearing this statement from a client, “I got passed over for a promotion…again!” – the Buddy Brain may think to itself: “Oh, no! How dare they do that to you! … what a toxic environment you are working in … you oughta get out of there!” The Buddy Brain can get caught up with the details of he said-she said, and loses site of the bigger picture.
  • The Bias Brain – the Bias Brain listens in a judgmental or evaluative state of mind. It is listening with the filter of what it thinks is right and what it thinks is wrong—the right way to do things, or not. For example, hearing this statement from a client, “I got passed over for a promotion…again!” – the Bias Brain may think to itself: “Of course you got passed over. You didn’t develop the leadership competencies the boss is looking for. You should have done more networking.”
  • The Builder Brain – the Builder Brain listens to understand within the bigger context, with an eye that everything that is happening to the client is creating opportunities to learn, grow, evolve. From this Brain, the statement “I got passed over for a promotion…again!” – the Builder Brain may think: “I hear the emotion there … and the emphasis you placed on the word ‘again,’ as if you’ve tried everything you could think of and it still hasn’t worked.” After a statement like this, pause, listen for client’s response, respond, and then possibly offer this response, with compassion. “What are the leadership competencies the organization needs to see in its promotable people right now? … And what are the opportunities for demonstrating them?”

To operate from the Builder Brain, we need to curiously and compassionately see circumstances as opportunities and recognize our power to choose the powerful strengths/values/perspectives that will move us and our clients toward what they want to create.