This is the second installment of the Communication Series on the Aurum Blog.
Part 1 is focused on creating greater connection on a team
In the previous post, we discussed the significance of creating authentic human relationships on a team. The way we create genuine connection and understanding between people is by being fully present and available for the interaction. Communication is a back and forth flow of verbal and non-verbal cues between people, with listening being half, (or more), of that transaction.
The term "Levels of Listening" was coined by the Co-Active Coaching Institute, and has become a well-loved and used model to improve the quality of our listening. In this post, we elaborate the model to include the 3 Levels of Speaking, in addition to the Levels of Listening.
The Three Levels
Much of what happens in conversations and relationships hinges on the quality of our presence with and attention on others. In leadership, being aware of who we are being and/or how we are communicating is an important skill in relationship building and landing our message. How we speak and how well we listen have a powerful effect on the field, the room, and our relationships with one another.
The principle of the Three Levels applies to both listening and speaking and can be described simply this way:
The Three Levels of Listening
Especially in leadership roles, we often focus on communicating and expressing, and forget about the power of genuine listening. Listening does more than help us take in information and gain valuable insight into what is happening in different aspects of a company, team, or project. The very act of listening (or not listening) significantly impacts the relationship(s) within any group endeavor. The way people are listened to impacts what they share, how much they disclose, their ability to come up with creative solutions, and their sense of value and importance.
In this model, there are three different levels of listening, each one with a different impact on both the person speaking and the listener. Which of the following 3 levels do you do most often?
Level 1 Listening: Attention on Oneself
“Listening” to the other, but the focus is on yourself:
This type of listening is the most common--we all do this more often than we care to admit. And although we usually justify it by being too busy, multi-tasking or trying to "get to the point", we are often oblivious to the negative impact this kind of pseudo-listening has. When someone is listened to in this way, they typically shut down, get distracted or lose their train of thought. They know are not really being seen or heard, so why bother? Crucial information is lost, discussions fall flat, the opportunity for creativity and connection are squandered and the person listening will never actually know what has been being omitted or lost.
Level 2 Listening: Attention on The Other
Full attention on the speaker:
Level 3 Listening: Aware of and Tuned-in to Relationship AND Field
Level 3 Listening is an even deeper, broader form of listening, tuning in to information that is not being explicitly said. In teams and group situations, Level 3 Listening includes the group field, the “vibe” coming from the group or team as a whole. In one-on-one conversations, level three listening means considering the larger context of what someone is sharing, be it their own personal growth journey, blind spots and growth edges, or the system in which they are operating. One remains aware of the many elements that might be informing this particular exchange.
Full attention on the speaker AND on the Field:
This very deep form of listening allows the speaker to be vulnerable and real, drawing forth what is most authentic and meaningful for them; this can be transformative for both speaker and listener, as well as revealing information that can have a powerful impact on what is needed to move forward.
At a group level, Level 3 Listening allows us to attend to the system as a whole. Often the message is not conveyed explicitly, but through implicit tone and felt sense. We can sense the overall tone of exhaustion, disconnection, or tension in a group field, as well as qualities such as resilience, excitement or ease in the space.
The 3 Levels of Speaking
In a similar way, when speaking, it is common for most of us to focus on expressing our own thoughts without paying much attention to how we are doing so, or to how we are being received by the other, the audience, the field, and what impact we are having. Just as how we listen impacts how we are received, our quality of being and attention when we are speaking can make the difference between a frustrating, ineffective exchange and a powerful, beneficial one.
The way people are spoken to influences how they respond to us, whether they are able to hear us or what it is they hear, their sense of value and importance, their ability to explore, be vulnerable, curious, or creative with us.
In this model, there are three different levels of speaking. Each one has a different impact on both the person speaking and the listener.
Level 1 Speaking: Attention on ONESELF
“Speaking” to the other, but the focus is on yourself:
This type of speaking often results in the other party or parties feeling "talked at" or even hurt. It may result in a little exchange of information, but can drive a wedge between speaker and receiver(s), making further communication extremely frustrating.
Level 2 Speaking: Attention on the OTHER
Speaking while aware of the other:
This kind of speaking makes the other person (or people) feel respected, seen, heard, understood, which in turn allows them to relax and be receptive.
Level 3 Speaking: Aware of and Tuned in to Relationship AND Field
Present to the listener(s) AND to the Field:
This level of speaking creates a space of safety for all involved. It is powerful and kind and deeply responsive to what is actually needed in the moment for communication to really land.
Observe the impact of your presence on others
While these ideas are certainly interesting, they are useless unless put to use in real life.
Try this out. Assess yourself after a conversation or meeting and ask yourself, "What level of listening or speaking was I in?" Notice the difference when you are being listened to or spoken to in these different levels. What is the impact on you on the receiving end?
When you catch yourself in Level 1, which will most likely happen, notice how you feel. Are you impatient, frustrated, bored? Then make the inner switch to Level 2. Perhaps you can even name it out loud, "I've been distracted, but now I want to really hear what you have to say." Then pay close attention to what changes in the other person, in the field.
Remember: Level 2 and Level 3 Listening and Speaking take as much time as level 1. In fact, they often require LESS clock-measured time, while providing a great deal more information, connection and results.
Devi Cavitt Razo and Deepika Sheleff are co-founders of Aurum Leadership. They are also close friends who have dedicated their lives to creating powerful, honest, resilient relationships.