Increase Your Awareness as An Active Listener

What type of listener are you?

Are you the type of listener that is easily distracted, glancing at message notifications on your screen as someone speaks to you?

Let’s be honest–we’re all that type of listener at times. . . As painful as that is to admit.

One of the core principles of CoActive Coaching (the coaching discipline I use with my clients) is increasing awareness around your listening. In CoActive methodology there are three levels of listening for coaches, but actually, they work for non-coaches too. As coaches, we use these levels as a self-evaluation tool. You can do the same thing.

Let’s get into it. As you read through, ask yourself which of these resonates most with me?

Level Zero*: You’re here in body, but not in mind. You’re half listening to the other person, and like I described above, your mind is on other things. You’re checking notifications, even briefly, or you might be thinking about another conversation you had earlier in the day.

Level One: You’re listening, but you’re thinking about yourself. This could mean you’re thinking about the thing you want to say next or thinking about your own experience with what the other person is describing. This isn’t always a bad thing. This is often how two people connect–through trading experiences on a given topic.

Level Two: You’re consistently focused on the person speaking to you. Your own agenda is suspended as you listen. You’re curious. You might find yourself mirroring the other person’s body language.

Level Three: You’re not only focused on what the other person is saying, but you’re aware of what’s not being said as well. Another way to describe this is that you’re picking up on the unspoken energy within the conversation. You’re in a state of connection with the other person and the surrounding area.

As an executive coach, our goal is to spend significant time in Levels Two and Three listening when we work with our clients. If we catch ourselves drifting into Level One, it’s a queue to self-manage ourselves back into Level Two or Three (though there is a place in our work for Level One listening too).

But most of you reading this are not executive coaches. So what do you do with this information?

Here is a way to think about it. . .In conversations with friends or co-workers, it’s normal–and totally natural–to spend time within all three listening levels.

Imagine catching up with a colleague at work who you haven’t seen in the office for a long time. You might ask questions and exchange stories about what you’ve been up to. You might notice that the person seems recharged since the last time you’ve seen them. In this basic example, you’ve spent time in all three listening levels in a simple conversation. You listened intently (Level Two), you related your own stories (Level One), and you were aware of a renewed energy within the person as they spoke (Level Three).

While it’s totally fine to flow through all three listening levels in most conversations, you might notice that you lean heavily towards Level One listening as a default. If you’re a manager, this might create a disconnect with some of your team in one on one conversations. Picture the manager that consistently cuts off their direct report to talk about their own experiences. Sometimes, that might be helpful, but over time, it can create a less than ideal communication environment in one on one conversations. Worse, it can prevent direct reports from raising important topics over time.

On the other hand, picture a friend that spends most of their listening time in Level Two or Three. They’re probably wonderful to talk to when you need to vent, but sometimes you’d like to hear what they think too!

To summarize, the three listening levels can help all of us increase self awareness as listeners. Imagine if we all spent a bit more time listening to each other without our own agenda. I like the thought of that!

So. . . What’s your default as a listener?

*Note: Level Zero isn’t part of the CoActive levels of listening. I added this one because there is an important distinction between this state and Level One listening. In Level One listening, you’re making an effort to pay attention to the other person, but your mind is connecting back to your own thoughts, ideas and experiences.

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Hey, I’m Tim.

Tim Fortescue is an executive coach who specializes in leadership and communication development for teams. In short, he’s here to help you be consistently you.

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