The Art of Listening

By Danielle Siegel, PCC, LCSW. When I work with my clients around listening, we focus on two areas, Levels of Listening and Active Listening, to help them become engaged listeners so others feel heard.

I recently introduced the concept of Levels of Listening to a group of managers by having them do a listening exercise. In this exercise, one member started by making up a news headline (ie. Smoke from wildfires in the West seen all the way in Michigan). 

Popcorn style, members make up headlines that start with the last word of the previous headline, so in this example the next headline would start with the word Michigan. What several of the members noted was that they were so focused on listening for the last word, they never even heard the rest of the headline. Read on to see which Level of Listening were they in.

Level 1 Listening: Internal Listening — this is when we are focused on what is going on inside of our heads; we are thinking about what we are going to say next. We are making opinions and judgements about the speaker or ourselves in that conversation or we may be focused on our to-do list.

Level 2 Listening: Focused Listening — this is when we are really paying attention to the other person; we are listening for feelings, motivation, challenges, themes, experiences. This is where Active Listening Techniques are used:

  1. Pay attention. Stop what you are doing and look at the person talking, notice/avoid Level 1 Listening by thinking of your response
  2. Demonstrate that you are listening. Nod, smile, make small encouraging statements
  3. Defer judgement. Let the speaker finish talking before jumping in to respond or ask questions
  4. Provide feedback. Paraphrase what you have heard and ask clarifying questions when the speaker is finished
  5. Respond appropriately. Be open and honest in your response

Level 3 Listening: Global Listening — this is when we listen for context; we are noticing their energy, mood, unsaid words. It’s where our intuition lies.

Active listening takes practice. In your upcoming conversations with your direct reports, peers, friends, and family be intentional in practicing this skill. Notice what you did well and what needs more practice. How are the conversations different when you are truly present and engaged?

For more about the art of listening and further developing your leadership skills, schedule a consultation with Danielle.