The three levels of listening

Are you listening?

Are you listening?

I am preparing to deliver The Careers Group’s two day Basic Guidance Interview Skills training course. In preparation and in search of new ways of bringing to life the training, I have been reading a book by Laura Whitworth called Co-Active Coaching.

In this book, the author explains the importance of listening within a coaching context by describing the three  levels of listening which I think provide an effective way of illustrating the importance of active listening.

Level I – Internal Listening
Listening to our own thoughts and judgements
Most of us will recognise this level of listening. Although we hear what the client is saying we focus on what it means to us. For example we may worry about the direction of the interview or what questions we should ask next. At this stage we simply stop listening to the client.

Level II – Focused Listening
Focus on what the client is saying
In this level, the practitioner hears each individual word and how the client expresses them. The words the client uses and the story they tell is heard in the client’s context.  The core skills of summarising, questioning, paraphrasing and restating are essentially used in this stage to deepen understanding and to build trust.

Level III – Global Listening
Listening focus is on more than just the words.
At this level of listening the practitioner is ‘dancing in the moment’ with the client – taking in the emotions behind the words, the body language, the gestures and the tones being used by the client. According to the authors this level of listening gives the practitioner a heightened sense of awareness and access to their intuition. The skill of immediacy can be applied to draw the clients attention to what is happening in the interview here and now.

See this article on listening for even more levels.

  • What level is your day-to-day listening at?
  • Do you have any ideas on how practitioners could enhance their listening?

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  1. #1 by TAPOSI DEB on 8 October 2009 - 04:15

    What can we do to get the next level?

    • #2 by David Winter on 8 October 2009 - 09:36

      It’s not necessarily a question of moving from one level to another. It is more about listening on a number of different levels at the same time.

      One way of improving your listening is to record discussions/interviews and listen back to them trying to notice things you missed the first time.

  2. #3 by Aminder K Nijjar on 30 October 2009 - 18:59

    This reminds me of the great importance of ‘really listening’ as we sometimes call it, and crucially, to be aware of all the internal chatter which affects what and how we listen and then process and act upon what we’ve listened to.
    I like the ‘dancing in the moment’ phrase!

  3. #4 by Saiyada Smith on 31 October 2009 - 09:49

    I often use the three levels of listening as a mental stick to help me focus if I catch myself drifting away from the client. I feel level 1 listening is appropriate for the client, our role as practitioners is to hold a mirror and reflect back to the client what they are saying to us. As practitioners we should aim to move between levels 2 & 3.

  4. #5 by Vinny on 27 November 2009 - 14:31

    I’ve been thinking about the whole listening at different levels thing and what came to mind with it was (and I know this is a little off the wall) a tag cloud.

    Often when we search for something online, the search engine gives it’s own results based on what it feels is significant. (internal listening)

    However, it is possible to see guidance as a “tag cloud.” We can listen really well to what they are saying and pick up on certain words which could be a “Tag”. (focused listening)

    By picking up on the other clues (emotions, body language etc) we can tell how significant the tag is (i.e. how large the font size was for each tag). (Global listening)

    We can then help guide them onwards towards other related tags and eventually to a ” results page” with options which correspond to the tags they had shown as significant. (of course there is always an option on every page, including the results page to keep removing or adding tags!)

    So there you have it. “Vinny’s Tag cloud listening model”
    (this is the second careers model I’ve come up with today! I’m on a roll!)

  5. #6 by David Winter on 27 November 2009 - 15:54

    Perhaps I’ve created a monster!

    Seriously, though – nice metaphor. Let’s play with it a bit.

    One of the things that I find about tag clouds is that they are often a demonstration of social pressure and lazy thinking. Once a particular tag starts to get a bit popular – it grows and grows. People notice it and the concept stays in their heads. When thinking of how to categorise a piece of information they use the label that comes to mind most easily rather than trying to think of something more precise and useful.

    I seem to spend a lot of my time giving people new tags. Part of my job seems to be giving people words and labels for things so that they can articulate the complex concepts that float around in their heads struggling for expression.

  6. #7 by Vinny on 27 November 2009 - 16:04

    You want people to be more engaged with models and theories – it goes to show… just be careful what you wish for!

    So let’s think about where this tag cloud exists.

    Is it based just on the words that the client gives us, or is it (probably more realistically) a group of labels we have in our head which we can use when listening to the client.

    Sometimes they say a word which corresponds exactly with a tag “I’d like to be a teacher.” or they may potentially hint at it with their reactions, body language and emotions. In this case we can then suggest suitable tags (for example, when you start typing into the text box of Careers Tagged it starts to suggest various options which correspond to the first few letter you type).

    With the tags we have come up with in the session from our active focused and global listening, we can then summarise more effectively and check to see if the tags we have opted for are appropriate and need changing or adding to.

  7. #8 by Marc Wong on 7 October 2011 - 21:16

    In addition to thinking about the three levels, how would you listen in the following situations?

    listen to your ipod (casually or really immersed in it)
    listen to a rock concert (lots of physical involvement throughout)
    listen to a classical music concert (stay quiet until the end, then clap)

    When you listen to your spouse, do you just give her part of your attention, like when you’re listening to your ipod? When your small child comes home jumping up and down about winning the soccer game, do you listen as if you’re at a rock concert or classical music concert?

    • #9 by David Winter on 13 October 2011 - 06:57

      That’s a really good illustration. We should ask ourselves ‘Are we listening in a way which respects the person or thing we are listening to?’

      Thank you

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