Levels of listening

Pay attention to the different types of listening and conversations you have during the day and notice the results.

  • Which conversations were most powerful?
  • Which ones were most effective at finding solutions?
  • Which conversations produced the deepest sense of connection and teamwork?

I am listening. Hey, what did you say?


A: “So what I’m saying is that …” 
B: “I just have to finish this…”

Hearing the other person’s voice, but not really even hearing the words they are saying.

What you are saying makes me think about …


A: “So what I am saying is that …”
B: “This reminds me of …”

Level 1 listening involves simply noticing everything that’s going on inside you during a conversation.

  • How is the conversation affecting you?
  • What thoughts or feelings are you having in the midst of it?
  • What opinions or reactions are provoked in you as you converse?
  • What are you chomping at the bit to say next?

Anytime you’re absorbed in Level 1 listening in a conversation, the exchange will typically not be very powerful for the other person. It may be powerful for you, but not so much for them.

If this is the only kind of listening you’re doing in a conversation, others will often leave frustrated or disappointed, feeling neither seen nor heard.

I am fully paying attention to your words and nonverbals


A: “So what I’m saying is that …”
B: “So what s/he is saying …”

Level 2 listening involves focusing your full attention 100% on the other person.

In Level 2, you practice shining a single spotlight of attention on the other person so that they are the only thing you see.

It’s the meticulous awareness of what they are saying and how they are saying it, as well as noticing all their nonverbal cues: where they’re looking, their facial expression, the way they’re holding themselves, even how they are breathing.

Level 2 listening is the skill of being fully absorbed by the person in front of you, to the exclusion of all other things, including anything in Level 1.

Level 2 listening is a very present kind of listening. In Level 2, you’re never thinking ahead to what you want to say next or what you’re going to ask. You stay with the person in this present moment, and trust that the conversation will take on a powerful flow of its own without you having to control it in one direction or another.

This requires faith (that you’ll have something to say when it’s your turn to speak), humility (letting go of the need to look or sound smart or to have the right answer), and practice.

I am fully paying attention to you and what is happening between us…


A: “So what I’m saying is that…”
B: “What I am noticing about US…”

Level 3 listening is the practice of noticing what’s happening in the space between you and the person or group you’re talking with. It involves noticing the vibe of the conversation, the ebb and flow of the relational connection between you, and even the background noise that’s present in the dynamic as you talk.

  • Is there tension in the air?
  • Is the conversation flat, or full of resonance?
  • What are the primary emotions hanging in space between us?
  • What’s hanging out there in the space between us that’s not being said?

Level 3 is where intuition and insight often live. It’s where new awareness often first shows up, and the possibility for profound change.

If you think about it, it makes sense that Level 3 is often the most powerful kind of listening you can employ because the transformational potential of any conversation is typically not just about what’s happening in me or what’s happening in you; rather, it’s about what’s happening in us.

Once you know the three levels, incorporating them into your life is simply a matter of practice.

Is listening at level 1 always wrong? No, definitely not. Being aware of your own needs, feelings and opinions is important.

To really connect with the other person, you do have to function at level 2 and ideally at level 3. But not every conversation is about deeply connecting.

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