Three Levels of Listening

Level 1: Active listening

At this level, listeners refrain from judging the speaker and attempt to understand things from his or her point of view. Some characteristics of this level include:

  • staying in the present moment
  • acknowledging and responding
  • not letting oneself be distracted
  • paying attention to the speaker’s total communication, including body language
  • being empathetic to the speaker’s feeling and thoughts
  • suspending one’s own thoughts and feelings to give attention solely to listening.

Active listening requires a non-judgmental attitude. It also requires that the listener show, both verbally and nonverbally, that he or she is truly listening. The overall focus is to listen so well that you can paraphrase and later summarize back to the speaker exactly what you have understood. Only when your speaker agrees that you have “got it”, should you ask permission to offer your advice.

Level 2: Hearing words, but not really listening

At this level, people stay at the surface of listening and may be thinking about comments and questions they want to make or advice they want to give. They try to hear what the speaker is saying, but make little effort to understand the speaker’s point of view. Level 2 listeners tend to listen logically, being concerned about content more than feeling, and remain emotionally detached from the conversation. Level 2 listening can lead to dangerous misunderstandings because the listener is concentrating only slightly on how things are being said. At level 3 it is obvious that the person is not listening, however, at level 2 the speaker may be lulled into a false sense of being listened to and understood.

Level 3: Listening in spurts

Tuning in and tuning out, being somewhat aware of the speaker, but mainly paying attention to oneself. The listener follows the discussion only enough to get a chance to talk. Level 3 listening can be quiet, passive listening without responding, or it can manifest as constantly interrupting the speaker. Often a person listening at this level is faking attention while thinking about unrelated matters, making judgments, forming rebuttals or advice, or preparing what he or she wants to say next.

Are you a level 1, 2 or 3 listener?

Download and complete our self-assessment questionnaire. Total your score. Then choose a listening activity where you scored 4 or 5, and resolve to improve. Practicing your listening skills is a great workout for your brain and will make you a better leader.

Active listening will improve respect, trust, and rapport with your boss, your co-workers, your clients, and most importantly, with your family and friends.

If you really want someone to listen fully to you, then practice Active Listening with them first. You will be amazed at their response.

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