Leadership: Developing Level Three Listening Skills

Andrew was always astonished by how he and his boss, Jenn, would attend the same meeting, and after, she would invariably come out of the meeting with a deeper understanding and a more insightful take on what happened, what it meant, and what she needed to do about it as a leader.

“Just this morning,” Andrew thought, “We met with the marketing team. What I heard was that the timing of our new product launch was a challenge, but that everything was on schedule. And, they’d like to continue to explore and consider the launch price point. Everything seemed OK to me.”

Jenn came out of the meeting saying to Andrew, “There’s a lot of tension between the marketing team members right now. I don’t think they are all in agreement with our primary target demographic and marketing persona. No one mentioned preparations for the launch webinar for the virtual conference. And James has seemed distracted lately — he hasn’t been contributing as much as in the past. I’m going to follow-up with the team leader and explore further.”

“How does she do that?” wondered Andrew. Finally, Andrew decided to ask Jenn what her secret is. Jenn’s “secret” is that she has learned how to listen at a deeper level and leverage her insights into actions and behaviors that help her be a stronger, more effective leader.

Beyond “Active” Listening — “Level Three” Listening

There are actually three levels of listening: conventional listening, active listening, and connected listening. Most people focus on the benefits of level two listening — being an active listener. However, level three listening is a more profound level that will provide you with a more powerful sense of awareness and comprehension.

Jenn’s executive coach is trained to listen at this third level. It is critical that coaches listen to their clients as deeply and intensely as possible. Jenn’s coach has worked with her to do the same. Becoming a level three listener, Jenn has become a much more proficient communicator, problem-solver, and leader.

Conventional Listening is Distracted Listening

Level one listening is ordinary, everyday listening. We often listen to others at this shallow, self-centered level. 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 just as much to our inner voice as we are the person who is speaking.

Active Listening is More Focused

Level two listening is “active listening.” It’s what most of the self-help books, articles, and seminars teach, and what most people are doing when they say they are good listeners. At this level, we are focusing our attention on the speaker and what that person has to say. We are engaged with the person speaking — nodding and maintaining eye contact. Active listening shuts down our inner voice, and we do our best to avoid running a parallel conversation internally about appraisals, replies, or waiting for our turn to speak. 

Connected Listening is the Path to True Insight

Level three listening connects you more profoundly and holistically to the speaker. A level three listener is able to take everything into account as they listen.

  • What is the speaker saying?
  • What does their body language and tone of voice tell me?
  • How is the environment affecting the speaker?
  • What are the circumstances of the conversation?
  • What am I feeling and observing in response? 

Level three listening takes into account what, how, why, when and where someone is saying something. Andrew was excited and determined to improve his listening skills in this way.

Andrew’s Journey to Become a Level Three Listener

It requires practice and a soft focus. Andrew began to listen more closely and observe body language more intently. “Is the person speaking comfortable in their chair? Did they suddenly cross their arms when I asked about a particular topic? Are they avoiding eye contact?”

A level three listener pays attention to the speaker’s tone of voice. Andrew started to note if their tone was relaxed, or cheerful, or tense, or cautious. “How does their tone change when I move from talking about a topic such as a favorite project to another topic, such as a recently announced new product launch or a revised business goal? Where are the connects and the disconnects?”

With practice — lots of practice! — Andrew is discovering that developing an awareness of the circumstances of the conversation, the time of day or month, and even the room where he’s meeting helps provide insight into what the speaker is really communicating. It’s also critical that Andrew notes how he, as the listener, is feeling as the other person speaks. “Am I bored? Engaged? Happy? Flustered? Angry?” Deeper, connected listening also means that he doesn’t act on his feelings and observations in that moment — Andrew notes them and reflects on them later.

For related information that will help you become a better listener, read Arden Coaching’s article, “10 Barriers to Listening.”

Andrew is already seeing that his listening at a more profound level is helping him gain additional insights and probe deeper about how someone is feeling or dealing with a situation, and recognizing what is really “happening.” Increasingly, he finds that he is in a position to help by communicating genuinely with people and asking them to reflect further on things he is noting. As a result, he’s becoming a better leader himself!

To learn more about level three listening and how to strengthen your leadership capabilities, contact the executive coaches at Arden Coaching at [email protected] or 646.684.3777.