Strong Leaders Need To Be Level 3 Listeners


I recently spent a whole weekend learning how to be a better listener. Well… that wasn’t the only thing I did for three days, but it was a major focus of the training experience. While I have always considered myself a “good listener,” I now realize how much I have, at times, been missing in conversations.

The experience also reminded me again how essential the skill of listening is for leaders. Being able to quiet the noise in your head so you can focus on what the words, silence, and body language of the person in front of you (or on the phone) is telling you.

To reflect on your typical level of listening, read over these three levels of listening (more fully defined in this Co-Active Coaching article), and think about the last phone or face to face conversation you had. Which level were you working from most often?

Level 1:
Your awareness was on yourself more than the other person. You thought about questions you would ask next while the person was talking. You were aware of other noises around you and your attention might be briefly drawn to them from time to time.

Level 2:
You had a sharp focus on the other person. If necessary, you could have repeated almost every word they said. You were less aware of any external noises or distractions.

Level 3:
You noticed not only the words, but the energy with which they were said, the pauses between words or sentences, and changes in body language (if face-to-face). If asked at any moment, you could have accurately described the mood of the conversation and the person with whom you were speaking.

As you know, becoming a deeper listener doesn’t just happen. It takes practice. Some techniques I find helpful to improve my listening include:

  • Removing as many visual distractions as possible
  • Slowing the conversation down and allowing space for reflection on what has just been said before making a comment or asking a question
  • Repeating back what I just heard and asking the other person if it’s a correct articulation of what they said
  • Being attentive to when the person starts talking louder or softer, faster or slower, more positive or negative

I’m curious. What do you do to improve your ability to really hear what the other person is saying? Share your thoughts below.

For More On This Topic:
Co-Active Coaching Listening Guide

Leadership and Aggressive Listening