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Levels of Listening

For a coach, there can surely be few skills more important than listening. Hearing what your client is saying, with attention and compassion, is key to being able to understand that person’s desires and goals and help him or her to reach them.

Denise Green of Brilliance Inc. outlines the different kinds of listening.

Level 1. Surface Listening

Recall a time you spent in an airport terminal. How do you listen to the repeating message on the speaker system that tells you that baggage left unattended will be confiscated and cars left unattended will be towed? Most likely, you barely even hear it. It is there, but it does not garner much of your attention. Nor should it. You have many other things that require more in-depth focus.

We run into trouble when we listen to our loved ones or valued associates in this manner. We hear, but we do not grasp the full meaning. Nuance is lost. How do you feel when someone listens to you at this level? Unfortunately, the people closest to us are likely to encounter us at this level often. You could also call this the post-nuptial listening level.

Level 2. Spiked Attention Listening

Think about that same loudspeaker in the airport. What if you hear your name called?

At this level, we listen until something provokes our interest. We hear more than we do at level one, but we still don’t grasp all meaning. We are self-focused. We drift.

Level 3. Curious Listening

Back in the airport, how do you listen to announcements about your flight when you are late, and the voice has a strong accent in a language different from your native tongue? You anticipate; clear your mind of distracting thoughts; listen attentively. When we listen in this way to others, we strive to understand fully. We may also pay attention to subtle cues. While this is deep listening, it is often still self-focused. We listen to what it means to us. “How does what you are saying reflect on me?” “How does it impact me?” “How does it prove what I already believe to be true?”

Level 4. Intuitive Listening

At this level, we employ senses beyond auditory. We listen for nuance, for meaning, for discovery. We have no agenda, nothing to prove. We are open to learning. We notice what’s not said. We detect emotion. At this level, we call on our intuition to inform us. We take cues from non-verbal sounds and movement.

This deep listening is what you as a coach need to cultivate. Moreover, it is worth it ― some of the outcomes that great listeners experience include:

  • Increased trust from others
  • Greater knowledge of all aspects of projects, events, people, plans
  • Improved relationships with colleagues across departments
  • Greater efficiency through fewer miscommunications and rework
  • More engaged and motivated associates
  • Greater ability to attract and retain talent
  • Greater ability to communicate effectively with international colleagues

Pay attention to what kind of listener you are.

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