It’s often said that “a genuine leader is an active listener.” There are numerous articles and books about the benefits of active listening. There is, however, a more profound level of listening: a “third level” that will provide you with more powerful insights and understanding.
As executive coaches we are trained to listen at this third level. It is critical that we listen to our clients as deeply and keenly as possible, and you can work to do the same. Achieve the third level of listening and you’ll become a much more proficient leader, communicator, and executive.
Distracted Conventional Listening
Level one listening is ordinary, general listening. We often listen to others at this superficial level. While the other person is speaking we may zone out briefly. We are easily distracted by other thoughts. We wait for our turn to speak, thinking about what we’ll say next. We’re listening as much, or more, to our inner voice as we are the person who is speaking.
Focused Active Listening
Level two listening is what most people are doing when they say they are good “active listeners.” We are focused on the speaker and concentrating on what that person has to say. We are engaged with the person speaking — nodding and maintaining eye contact. We shut down our inner voice, and try not to run a parallel conversation internally about responses, judgment, or when it will be our turn to speak.
Profoundly Connected Listening
Level three listening connects you more deeply and more holistically to the speaker. A level three listener takes everything into account in the moment — what the speaker is saying, their body language, their tone of voice, the environment, the circumstances of the conversation, and what the listener him/herself is feeling and observing in response.
Active listening tends to focus on what someone is saying. Level three listening takes into account how, why, when and where they are saying it. It requires practice and a soft focus. You are listening and observing body language — is the speaker comfortable in their chair? Did they suddenly cross their arms when you asked about a particular topic? Are they avoiding eye contact?
A level three listener pays attention to the speaker’s tone of voice. Is their tone relaxed? Cheerful? Tense? Cautious? How does it change when you move from talking about a topic such as a favorite project to another topic, such as a recently announced strategic business goal? Where are the connects and the disconnects?
Maintaining an awareness of the room, the circumstances of the conversation, and even the time of day or month helps provide insight into what the speaker is really communicating. For more about words versus context, check out Arden Coaching’s blog post, “Hearing Words vs. Hearing Context: A Lesson on Listening.”
At level three, it’s also important to note how you, as the listener, are feeling as the person speaks. Are you bored? Fascinated? Agitated? Deeper, connected listening means that you don’t act on your feelings and observations in the moment — you note them, and pack them away for reflection later.
If you learn to listen at a more profound level you can gain additional insights and probe deeper about how someone is feeling or dealing with a situation. You can help them by asking them to reflect further on things you are noting.
From the perspective of executive leadership, the ability to listen at this third level is a potent tool.
To learn more about level three listening, executive coaching, and team performance, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 646.844.2233.