Levels of Listening

There are three levels of listening that determines how effective we are in leading ourselves and others, through relationship, to better outcomes.

Level 1 Listening

Level 1 listening is where we are in our heads, listening to our own thoughts and interpretations of what we are hearing. Often this is labeled as “listening to reply” – just waiting for the general gist of what they are saying and then formulating my reply while they finish talking. I am therefore listening for the next available gap for me to insert my next point.

Listening at this level is about YOU, not about the person you are conversing with, the issue being talked about, or the relationship at hand. This level of listening will reliably miss out on details and nuances, what is not being said, data around emotions, or empathetic capacities on behalf of the listener.

To move out of level 1 listening, choose to be present with what they are saying, stopping your thoughts when they start becoming active and putting them aside gently to be present in the moment.

Level 2 Listening

Level 2 listening is no longer listening FROM OURSELVES, we are instead, listening for meaning, content, emotion, understanding, sense-making, compassion and empathy and human connection with the speaker. In level 2 we let go of our own thoughts and place ourselves in THEIR shoes or in the situation being relayed. From here we get new data, sometimes sensory experiences while being empathetic, sometimes picking up on what is implied, or not being said.

Here we start listening with an open heart and mind.

To develop this capacity, bring your awareness to more than just your ears when listening. Notice sensations in your gut or stomach, listen with your eyes to notice their facial expressions, body language and how they are gesturing or taking up the space in front of you. Imagine what it would be like to be them, or to be in the situation or simply start asking them what it is like to be them in the situation so that you can learn and step into that with them.

Level 3 Listening

Listening with our and their emotion, our intuition, our bodies, what is happening around us, intuiting our shared intentions or what is needed right now – it is global listening. We start asking and listening for the higher possibilities of what can emerge, the deeper aspects of what the relationship is trying to express, or what the situation is trying to bring forward in the situation being shared.

To develop this capacity is a daily practice that builds on levels one and two, with a mindful practice of self, other and situational awareness. To listen from here, start listening for bigger contexts, such as social pressures, family influences, organisational expectations, relationship tensions or start asking yourself, if our relationship had a voice of its own, what would it be saying right now?