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Learning to Listen at all Levels is as Easy as 1, 2, 3!

Updated: Jul 13, 2022

I recently did a Facebook Live on “Listening at all Levels,” which is a game-changer in how you communicate with colleagues, friends, and loved ones. You can check out the video replay here (guaranteed to make you an expert listener in just 15 minutes!), but I also wanted to share the highlights in a blog so that you could easily refer back to it when you needed a refresher.

Here’s the headline (TL;DR): Level 1 is listening to respond. Level 2 is listening to understand. Level 3 is listening to transform.

Level 1 listening is transactional. You use it when you go to a restaurant or ask for directions. The focus is on you, the topics stay surface-level, and it does not facilitate meaningful connection. Small talk would fall into this category (“How about them Cowboys?” or “How was your weekend?”) and you often start generating your response before you’ve even heard what the other person has to say. You may notice that people are distracted or interrupt when they are in Level 1 mode because the focus is on themselves and not the other person. Conflict and anxiety often trigger Level 1 listening because it shuts off the more sophisticated, higher-order parts of our brain as we move into fight, flight, or freeze.

Takeaway: Level 1 listening is important for basic social interactions, but does not facilitate deeper experiences.

Level 2 listening is about connection. The focus is on the other person and demonstrating that you have a genuine curiosity in what they are sharing. This is where non-verbals, body language, and facial expressions become important data points and you incorporate them into what you are actually hearing from their words. To apply Level 2 listening, replay or reflect back what you heard to make sure you got it right, check your assumptions, and ask for clarification if needed. It’s helpful to share what you’re observing and what your interpretation is to covey that you are clued in and trying to understand in the moment. For example, “you said you were excited about that project, but your shoulders slumped over when you talked about it during the staff meeting” or “I can tell you’re excited because your face lit up when you were telling me that story.”

Takeaway: Level 2 listening is critical for social connections and cultivating vulnerability, intimacy, and trust.

Level 3 listening is about energy. This is where you are using your instincts, trusting your senses, and noticing gut feelings to understand the person on a deeper level. Level 3 listening allows you to pick up on nuances, intricacies, and even what’s not being said because you are so dialed in to the other person. For example, “I’m sensing that you want to say something, but you’re holding back,” or “you mentioned you were feeling confident about that upcoming presentation, but I’m wondering if there’s something else going on.” Level 3 listening is undoubtedly harder virtually because you have less information to take in, but it’s still possible if you are tuned in to listen at a higher frequency. I was recently having a phone call with a client and shared, “I noticed that your voice got higher and you started speaking faster when you were telling me about that situation. I’m curious what was coming up for you.”

Takeaway: Level 3 listening is a powerful tool for understanding at a deeper level and can facilitate insights that lead to growth.

Now that I’ve explained the basics of listening at Levels 1, 2, and 3, here are a few additional tips and strategies to support you as you put this into practice:

  1. Listening at Levels 2 and 3 is exhausting if you are doing it right because it requires intense focus to stay fully engaged with the other person while tapping into your own instincts and intuition. Knowing this, be intentional about spacing out your schedule so that you can more easily drop into those deeper levels when you need to. For example, if you are doing annual reviews for folks on your team or if you know there’s a conversation coming up that will be heavy, be intentional about when and how those take place so that you can be fully present. I know that I can only do 2 or 3 coaching sessions per day to preserve my energy and continue to serve my clients at optimal levels.

  2. Related to being intentional about your own energy is a reminder about self-care. I’m talking about basic Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs here: rest, hydration, nutrition, bathroom, etc. You can’t be a good listener if you’re hangry.

  3. Just like athletes have their routine before a meet or a competition, you need to get your mind, body, and spirit ready to listen fully. Whether it’s meditation, yoga, deep breathing, prayer, or something else that works for you, build in time before the conversation to get centered and grounded. I like to go for a walk in the morning to help clear my head and always do a gratitude mantra to start my workday. Be sure to remove distractions, turn off phone notifications, and shut off your email so there’s nothing else competing for your attention. If you find yourself drifting to your grocery list or remembering that you need to take your car in for service, jot yourself a note on the side of your paper to park it somewhere for later. You want to be as clear and unencumbered as possible to be able to focus on the other person without your own stuff getting in the way.

  4. Let go of being right. It’s OK to say, “it sounds like you’re frustrated” and for the response to be, “no, I’m not frustrated. I’m angry.” It shows you’re invested and opens the door for further dialogue leading to deeper understanding.

  5. Teach others about the three levels of listening and use this shared language to up-level communication within your organization, family, or community. Better yet, bring in One Eleven Leadership to facilitate a training for your group!

Homework: Practice! Notice this week when you are in Level 1 and intentionally shift to Level 2 (or 3 for you overachievers out there). Pay attention to how others react and see what happens to the conversation and the relationship as a result.

If you (or someone you know) could benefit from working with a certified coach and trained facilitator who will provide customized, holistic, and tireless support as you or your team identify and take action towards your goals, please reach out to One Eleven Leadership to set up a complimentary consultation.

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