It is generally accepted that there are three levels of listening. Level 1 is where it looks like we are listening to the other person but we are really listening to the commentary that is taking place within our own head. The commentary can include judgements on what we are hearing or it may contain comparisons with our own life experience or we may be formulating what we believe to be some helpful advice. Active Listening is not about any of these things. When we actively listen to another person, we are sitting and listening with only one agenda … to hear truly and accurately what our colleague is communicating both verbally and non-verbally. If we are listening at Level 1, the person speaking will know either consciously or unconsciously, that we are not truly listening to them and often they will respond by stopping their communication.
Level 2 listening is when I shift the focus of my attention away from my own inner thoughts and I place my focus instead on the speaker. The progress of level 2 listening is that now at least the focus is in the right place … on the speaker. The shortcoming of Level 2 listening is that we are usually only interested in hearing the facts and the verbal words being spoken – we usually filter out most of the non-verbal communication such as emotions, tone, and energy levels.
Level 3 is the deepest form of listening and when we listen at level 3, we are so present that we can receive the full verbal and non-verbal message. We tune in to the speaker’s body language, to the tone, pace and volume variations in their communications and we can also pick up assumptions, personal values, unstated expectations and even what the person is reluctant to express. When we listen at level 3, the speaker will feel truly heard, truly appreciated and respected and trust will naturally develop between both parties. Level 3 listening is about ensuring that the speaker feels truly heard in our presence. When we are listening at Level 3, we hold back all our personal beliefs on the subject being explored; we hold back all advice; we hold back all comparisons to our own life experience and we hold back all personal judgements on what we are hearing. We leave the space between the listener and the speaker clear of our own personal opinions and we reserve the space fully for the speaker to express their reality.
Level 3 listening requires a lot of patience and energy. It isn’t easy and unfortunately not common in today’s world and for this reason, it requires a significant commitment to personal practice.