Effective Listening: Levels of Listening

June 20th, 2013 by Sit up a Tree

Effective Listening Part 3

In the previous posts I wrote about paying attention and mindful listening as essential parts of the communication process. In this post I look at different types of listening and how to find the right level for the conversation you are having.

Julie Starr’s Coaching Manual describes four levels of listening:

  • Cosmetic listening – this might be listening while you’re doing other things such as watching television.
  • Conversational listening – when you’re participating in a conversation but perhaps in a public place, so you’re also looking at passers-by or also paying attention to other people around or their conversations.
  • Active listening – this is when we are paying attention to what the other person is saying, but perhaps you are taking notes or maybe you are thinking about what they are saying means to you or planning your reply.
  • Deep listening – this level of listen is completely focussed on the speaker, their viewpoint and not thinking about your part in the conversation or focussing on your own thoughts. It is mindful listening and a loving gift that you can give to the speaker. Any thoughts of your own response to what they say will come after they have finished speaking – if at all. Conversations that involve deep listening are often punctuated by gentle pauses where neither party needs to speak, which aids the flow of thoughts and sharing of ideas.

Next time you are listening, notice which type of listening you are doing.

If you find yourself listening on a more cosmetic level, try dropping the level.

Which type of listening do I use?

There are many types of listening, from simply discriminating sounds to full empathic engagement. Determining what type of listening is required will depend upon the situation.

Unless we employ deep listening all the time, which would be very tiring especially at first, we can find ourselves floundering about what type or level of listening to use. I find it useful to first consider the context of the conversation and the emotional state of the speaker. This is best determined by paying attention to their body language of the speaker and noticing the type of language they are using.  Asking the following questions may help you decide:

Are they talking about feelings or thoughts?

  • Do I need to be supportive? If the speaker is showing a lot of emotion and asking for support, then putting your empathic ears on and concentrating on sharing their experience will be most useful at this stage. That means not just getting the details of, for example, something that happened to them, but also how they felt about it. Deep listening is called for here, if you can achieve it, as this will enable you to get the most out of what they are saying on many different levels.If you can’t achieve deep listening right now, then concentrating on the emotional content will, at the very least, enable you to relate to how they are feeling.  Speakers frequently want to share their feelings as part of a cathartic process. As listeners we can’t always determine whether we are just acting as a sounding board, to let the speaker get their feelings out, or whether we are likely to be called upon to respond. The best time to determine this is once the speaker has finished speaking. Either way, being able to mirror the speaker’s feelings and show that you can empathise with how they feel is vital. A simple “I hear you” can make the world of difference in an indifferent world.

A simple “I hear you” can make the world of difference in an indifferent world.

  • Do I need to make a critical analysis of what they are saying? If the speaker is not asking for support or specifically states that they are not, then discarding the emotional content of what they are saying and instead concentrating on facts and details may be most appropriate.Be aware though that they may switch modes and ask for support later, so if you’re not ready to address the emotional content later you risk looking like a heel.  If you can pay some attention to the parts they seemed to feel most strongly about then you’re going to be able to show some support if it turns out that it is required. And besides it’s always polite to show that you appreciate how strongly someone feels or express some level of sympathy.

Are they talking about plans and ideas?

  • As with supportive conversations above, it’s worth asking yourself what is required from you. Do you need to be enthusiastically listening to their ideas and showing your support? Or do they want a more dispassionate ear for their plans?
  • Ideas or plans? Are they sharing problems?

I make it a rule of thumb to always listen more intensely than I think I need to.

All this is easier said than done. Listening at active and deeper levels is a skill you develop with time and practice.

Try to do it daily.


This entry was posted on Thursday, June 20th, 2013 at 11:01 am and is filed under Communication, Personal Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.



%d bloggers like this: