The Five Levels of Listening

The Five Levels of Listening


Level Title Description of Listeners’ Actions
1 Pretend Listeners want to give the speaker the impression that they are listening, but they have no real interest in what they speaker wants to communicate. This patronizing practice often is used to minimize the time conversing with the speaker.
2 Selective Whether consciously or unconsciously practicing this, listeners filter what they hear. They filter from the conversation what they do not want to hear and focus only on what interests them. Filters may be based on listeners’ background, worldview, values, and interests.
3 Passive When engaged in a conversation, listeners are mentally preparing a response for what they hear. They are more focused on impressing the speaker with a response than being impressed by what the speaker wants to communicate. By doing so, listeners miss the intent and may not fully understand the meaning behind what the speaker is conveying. Thus, listeners more interested in what they want to say wait for an opening to interject and even interrupt the speaker.
4 Attentive Listeners focus on what the speaker says and they hear the words, but listeners do so from their own viewpoint and perspective. Listeners may be affected emotionally by the speaker’s words but these emotions are from the listeners’ perspective and may or may not reflect what the speaker is feeling. By not focusing the communication from the speaker’s perspective, listeners may miss an important meaning and messaging.
5 Empathic Many people effectively listen from their viewpoint, but they never develop the ability to listen with empathy. To achieve Level Five, listeners need to adopt a completely new mindset. At this level, listeners use attentive listening but view the conversation from the speaker’s perspective. Empathic listeners have the capacity to emphasize with what the speaker says and feels. If a speaker relates a life experience, listeners can put themselves in the speaker’s place and not just hear what the speaker is saying, but imagine what the speaker experienced and feel what the speaker is feeling.

©Graves, R. (2014)

Don’t Compromise…Collaborate!

When two individuals are at opposing sides of an issue, how often do you hear the statement, “They’re working out a compromise?” We see it in business, in politics, and in personal relationships. In fact, we see it virtually everywhere.

So, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word compromise? Perhaps it directs your mind to other words, such as negotiation, concession, or conciliation, or even phrases like ‘give and take’, ‘find the middle ground’, or ‘meet halfway’. Regardless of the language, compromise involves someone being forced to give something up. This creates win-lose, or even worse, lose-lose where both individuals must sacrifice.

What if there was a way to achieve synergy without anyone feeling like they had to give anything up? That’s the power of collaboration. Steven R. Covey calls it the third alternative. It’s not my way and it’s not your way, it’s our way. The power to create something from nothing, something that is truly unique, something that is far better than anyone could have imagined.

Collaboration is not difficult but it requires an entirely different mindset. Seek first to listen and then to be heard. It can be achieved if just one of the parties (you) chooses to adopt a win-win attitude, to see the other person as a human being not just a representative of their “side.”

Empathic Listening

We have learned that humans have neurons that act as mirrors. In fact, these cells may form the basis of human empathy. When you mirror what another person feels, that person is wired to mirror you in return. The key is in your ability to become vulnerable; to leave your ego at the door, cast your opinions aside, and put yourself in the other person’s place; listening from their frame of reference, feeling the innermost expression of their emotions.

This process, known as empathic listening, can be acquired by being curious; adopting the mindset, “You see things differently and I need to listen to you.” You approach the conversation with the full intent of finding out everything you can about the other person, their background, what brought them to this moment in time, and how they feel about the issue at hand. You will be listening to a story, which means hearing the content and all the emotion the other person is expressing so that you can stand in their shoes and know what it feels like.

Empathic listening has no timetable. Mark Goulston in his book Just Listen says that the most powerful question you can ask is, “Tell me more.”  Not only does this give the other person time to fully express what they’re feeling, but it also has a disarming effect. There is no longer any need for the other person to argue with you or feel they have to prove a point because you’re not showing any interest in engaging in a fight. “Tell me more” also shows that you are truly listening and that you heard precisely what is troubling them. It’s a great compliment to be invited into the mind and heart of the other person.

The Breakthrough

Although this sounds contrary to our human nature, one of our greatest human psychological needs is to be understood and valued. You will discover that the longer you allow the other person to talk, the more powerful it will be when the big moment arrives (and it will) when they ask, “So, what about you?”

You have just reached a highly sought-after level of rapport, creating a trusting and open exchange that would have been impossible by any other means. The other person’s mirror neurons are firing and it’s now your turn to talk. You can speak with confidence, knowing that your empathy is being reciprocated. You’re no longer seen as the opponent but rather as a person with emotions, challenges, disappointments, pressure, and feelings. The tension has drained away and you can speak openly without having to defend yourself.

Once you’ve finished answering their questions, you’re prepared to collaborate. It begins by you posing the question, “Are you willing to work together on a solution that is better than anyone has come up with yet?” Since the other person now sees you in an entirely different light, they are open to considering the possibilities. The follow-up question is simple but powerful, “What do you think better would look like?” You’re now well on your way to creating something truly creative from absolutely nothing, something from the ground up. You’re now ready to birth an entirely new breakthrough, a collaborative creation that is the product of two individuals who desire the best possible outcome.