LEGO Serious Play Blog
LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Facilitation Training and Certification


Listening and how to improve it

This post is by SeriousWork author Sean Blair, who spends most of his time facilitating meetings and workshops for clients in many countries on behalf of ProMeet, a professional facilitation business.

Firstly he proposes that there are five levels of listening that we use in meetings. Next he explains how LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® uses three modes of communication that results in higher levels of listening. Finally, for facilitators familiar with LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, Sean shares how to help people listen and understand even more fully.

Who's not listening?

Imagine a meeting or workshop where everyone showed up - then paid no attention to each other at all. Imagine no one listening to anything anyone said. Can you picture that? Maybe you've even seen or felt that??

Begin by reflecting on listening

At most ProMeet workshops this year, (with or without LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, ProMeet workshops don't always use LEGO) we've begun by inviting participants to think about listening. This is a good thing to do at the beginning of a process like a meeting or workshop.

To help participants reflect on how they might listen we invite them to explore this model:

Levels of Listening

Framing a workshop as a listening process, and an opportunity for each of us (including me) to learn about how we listen helps create a healthy meeting culture where people are more self-aware and respectful.

Of course setting out intending to listen at the higher levels doesn't mean do listen. If participants begin to 'talk over each other' or if group attention drifts towards the lower listening levels a facilitator can ask where the listening level is (or call it) and participants can remember that listening-to-understand is a better way to achieve shared aims and develop respectful relationships.

Try it yourself, at the beginning of your meeting or workshop. Share a slide or handout and invite the group to give examples of their experience of each of the levels of listening, then as the meeting progresses, ask where the level is if it drifts.

Listening is deeper with LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®

One of the KEY benefits of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® is what we call 'enhanced communication', where participants use three modes of communication together:

  1. Auditory communication - speaking
  2. Visual communication - illustrating the thought or idea using a model as a prop to hold peoples attention
  3. Kinaesthetic communication - involving body and movement as you talk, move and animate the ideas mediated through the model

You can see a short video describing these benefits in a little more detail here.

When participants know how to activate these three modes (we teach these skills at the outset of a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshop), LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® has a big advantage over traditional meetings when it comes to listening.

When these modes are used well, listeners are more fully engaged by the speaker, as they listen with their ears and eyes but also though a wider perception of people and space.


Participants at a recent ProMeet workshop using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® to develop strategy

People may or may not be conscious of their resulting sensory and mental states in reaction to the auditory, visual and physical stimuli, but what's clear, and what the photo above tries to show, is the level of listening is greater than you usually see in traditional meetings.

Understanding meaning

Listening does not equate to understanding.

In LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Build Level 2 - Shared Model Building, (see a model with all three build levels) participants build shared models then take turns to explain what the model means. The differences in individual story telling give the group an opportunity to explore the different meanings people have and though dialogue understand and agree on common meaning.

For those familiar with LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® this is a very common and familiar process.

Facilitate meaning, not talking.

Last week I was running a workshop where we were creating a vision of what success looked like in 12 months time for a small senior leadership team. One of the participants built this lovely and complex model of his vision for the team.

Team Vision with LEGO SERIOUS PLAY

An individual participant model of his vision for his team in 12 months time

As with every LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshop after he built it, he explained his vision to the others using the model, next (with his permission) I passed his model to another member of the group and asked the other to explain what it meant.

The immediate implication of this move was a) it tested the extent to which the others had been listening, and as second person told their understanding of the model b) it allowed the builder and the new teller to explore and understand what the builder had meant, not what the listener had heard.

Usually at Build Level 1 Individual model building LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® facilitators don't ask people to explain what each others individual models mean, but in this experiment, I did, and it seemed to help the level of listening remain high at Level 3: listening to understand.

Try this idea during one of your LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshops and see if it makes a difference to the already great level of listening LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® creates.

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