Did you know there are two additional levels of listening you’ve probably never heard of? I’m going to teach you how to use them, and it will dramatically increase your interpersonal power.
Listening is more natural for some than others, but it’s not as hard as you think. The first step is:
1. You reframe your thinking on the goal of communication
2. Become aware of the 3 levels of listening, and how to operate within them
Most think of communication as a means to convey and receive information, and that’s not entirely accurate. The goals of communication are:
- To understand
- To be understood
Most of us tend to prioritize the second goal, to be understood. However, when we prioritize the first goal, to first understand others, the second actually takes care of itself. When you seek to understand others, they will respond by seeking to understand you. It’s a beautiful reciprocity that you’ve influenced by being a listening leader.
Within the context of seeking to understand, let’s look at the levels of listening:
Level One is Listening for information – Most people don’t move beyond this level. They listen long enough to get a grasp of the message, then move into problem solving, defending, or some action state in response to what’s been said. The problem with this approach is there’s MUCH more to communication than what’s been verbally stated, knowing the goal of communication is to understand.
This is where level two comes in: Listening for impact.
I went to the park with my daughter this morning, and while I usually keep to myself, today I struck up a conversation with a young mom. She asked me what I do for a living, and I told her I’m a Career Coach. She said, “Maybe you could help me. I still haven’t figured out what I want to do when I grow up.”
She shared she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, and she didn’t have a degree, so she felt very limited in her options.
The career coach could have kicked in with information on mechanics of job search, and places that hire people without a college degree. Instead, I asked myself, “What is the impact this is having on this woman. She’s feeling very uncertain. She hadn’t been planning on going back to work until her children were in school full time. What are the fears and challenges this is causing?”
Because of level two listening – impact – I instead asked more questions and listened to her concerns and fears. This helped me understand that her primary and most pressing need was not job search mechanics, it was support and validation of her ability to contribute in this world. We began to talk about strengths she innately possesses that someone is willing to pay for, such as the natural ability to organize, or listening empathically to people who need it.
She said she had not considered how her natural talents qualify her to make a contribution. Don’t we all tend to fall into that trap from time to time? My mentor says that’s like a bird lamenting they can’t fly without having to use their wings.
This line of conversation took me to the third level of listening – Listening for what’s not being said. As I was listening to her share her career struggle, it enabled me to read what wasn’t being said directly: She and her husband are not on the same page about her going back to work, and it’s causing conflict.
After exercising the three levels of listening, I was able to determine how I might best help her, and the first step was most certainly not brushing up her resume. It’s helping her have constructive dialogue with her husband to get them both on the same page.
He wants her to get a job, but what I’m going to do is coach her to talk to him about what his goals are. So often people issue solutions without taking a step back to talk about the goal. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and until they talk about the underlying issues that lead him to believe she needs a job, she will resent him for what she perceives as forcing her to work when she doesn’t feel confident about her ability to do so.
When your goal is to understand, only then are you in a position to meet the true need of the other person, whether it’s a co-worker, your boss, or a stranger at the park.
What’s one thing you want to do differently as a result of this information? Or, do you already exercise the three levels of listening?
All the best to you!