Richard Maun – Three Level Listening

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Three Level Listening

11 November 2013

How well do you listen to people? I mean really pay attention to what they are saying? Or, do you half listen whilst idly wondering whether to have fish fingers for tea, or whilst flicking through the paper to see what’s on TV that night?

Listening is a useful skill and one that is often talked about and rarely practised to its full extent, so here is a coaching tool, called three level listening. When someone begins to tell you something important, think about the content of their words from three different directions:

Level 1 – Our inner dialogue.
What are we saying to ourselves whilst the other person is talking? Think about whether we are challenging their words in our head, or seeking to understand them, or if we are really listening to them at all? We can check our understanding by asking…so, what I’m wondering is…?

Level 2 – The story.
What are the little details scattered amongst their words? Are there facts and figures, characters and the thread of a story line? We need to catch the details and hang on to them. We can help ourselves by asking…so, what you’re saying is…?

Level 2 – Holistic details.
This is everything else apart from the story and its hard facts. We need to listen for feelings and assumptions, patterns, hesitations, implications and unsaid things. We need to trust our intuition and catch hold of those fleeting personal details that give colour and shade to the other person’s story. We can bring these elements into awareness by asking…so, what I’m hearing is that you…?

If we are working as a coach and/or mentor and want to support someone to make a shift in their behaviour we can know that 20% of the information we need is contained at Level 2 and 80% is lurking at Level 3. Our job is to listen, to notice and to reflect back to people, so that they can hear their own words and appreciate the reality of their situation.

If you want to practice this in a safe way then switch on the TV and watch a soap opera. Listen carefully to the protagonist as they harangue a friend or neighbour and jot down a few notes under each of the above headings. It’s amazing what we can hear when we are really listening!

Next week: How hard is your business card working?


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