The 3 Levels of Listening
Updated: Feb 17
“It's more than just a mission, You hear but you don’t listen” - Drake (Find your love)
You must have come across situations where the other party has expressed their frustrations about you not listening. It’s more than likely that they might be right.
"You don’t listen to me" or "I did tell you before but you don’t listen" springs to mind.
What is it that we are avoiding or ignoring and why?
Additionally, have you been in situations where you just can’t get what someone is talking about? Or you know someone who interrupts others every time and puts forward their point of view which isn’t applicable to the conversation?
Do you know your co-worker who doesn’t grasp or absorb information quickly even though you’ve mentioned the same thing multiple times? Or maybe you end up asking yourself "How does anything they’re saying have an effect in what I’m doing or trying to do?”
I think we can agree these all are not-so-fine examples of listening.
This begs the question "What is listening, actually?"
Authors Henry and Karen Kimsey-House propose that there are 3 levels to listening. They are:
Level 1 listening
Level 2 listening
Level 3 listening
Seems pretty straightforward. Let’s explore more!
1. Level 1 listening
Also can be categorised as internal listening, at this level we listen to ourselves. In a self-centred manner, we emphasize ourselves as the primary concern during a conversation.
This level is required when we’re trying to make a quick personal decision based on what the other party has to say, for instance, making a decision on picking a meal from the menu in a restaurant, based on what your friend’s opinion is. Level 1 listening will always ask the question, “What’s In It For me?”, or WIIFM.
In most situations though, if we are listening at this level, we often undermine what the speaker is really wanting to convey. For instance, a co-worker is trying to explain to us about the project and his worries on a particular piece of that project. He might be looking for solutions or someone to empathise with.
However, let’s assume we immediately think about our implications, namely WIIFM. We then immediately start disregarding the main intent of the conversation, i.e. to get the understanding from the co-worker's perspective. This might hamper our personal as well as work relationships. Therefore, we should be sure to acknowledge that we have work to do to get to level 2.
2. Level 2 listening
This level can also be called ‘Focused Listening’ as your listening is focused not on you but on somebody else or some other group. At this level, we are empathising the speaker(s). We are free from our personal lens and we stay focused solely on the speaker.
When we listen from the perspective of the speaker, great things happen. It provides the speaker with the much needed empathy that’s crucial for us as human beings to work together effectively.
Great relationships forge out of focused listening. If we want to get better collaboration at work, we might want to work on our Level 2 listening. It is also a sign of our emotional intelligence, a much needed attribute everybody should be working on.
It’s also not just about constructing meaningful relationships but also grasping the much needed information that can lead to alignments which is paramount in working as part of a team and achieving common goals, hence pushing for efficiency and productivity or vice versa.
3.Level 3 listening
Listening at Level 3 or ‘Global listening’ entails listening beyond the words the person has to say. This means carefully inspecting a person’s gestures, tones, postures, voice, facial movements etc.
We don’t have to be a body language expert to figure out if someone isn’t feeling at ease when we put forward our proposal. We just might have to pay more attention than what we usually do. For instance, transitioning from “What can I say next from my perspective?” to “What is this person trying to tell me? Why does he sound worried?”
To reap the benefits at level 3, we have to use everything at our disposal in the respective environment. Understanding a room’s environment is crucial. We have to look for cues for tensions, nature of the conversations and the unspoken words.
“Why is nobody paying attention?”
“Why does her facial expression change as soon as I say, ‘let’s talk business’?”
Trying to stay at levels 2 and 3 can be exhausting. We constantly switch through the levels and refer ourselves back to Level 1 every time. I think our innate behaviour of looking out for ourselves is trying to pull us back to WIIFM mode, or maybe it’s simply our ego.
Remember, this isn’t about us. Most of the time, it’s rather the opposite, i.e. it’s about others. Like any other traits, we have to embrace the bitter truth that our self-centredness may have ramifications when we’re part of a team.
As leaders, when we exercise our capacity to lead others, level 2 and 3 is where we should be predominantly staying at. This will enable us to get perspectives from everyone we lead, to further ease everyone's journey; a service we promised to provide in the first place.
Additional things to consider:
Write it down! We’re not that great at absorbing information
Get rid of the distractions to increase focus
Be patient, it will take time