How many of us were taught the four levels of listening? For myself, I was oblivious to the existence of such a concept up until about five years ago. I had been taught the difference between hearing someone and actually listening to them, as most of us have. However this is just scratching the surface. In fact, this would be characterized as level 1 listening. Let me explain the four levels of listening and how you can be more influential and a better leader by honing these skills.
- Level 1 is directly influenced by our habits of judgement. At this level, we are only reconfirming old opinions and judgments. This is an act of "downloading" information, of hearing, but not listening. Most people will never move beyond level 1 listening in their day to day interactions.
- Level 2 is the first level where we start to open our minds and disconfirm past judgments. At this point, we have now started to listen to the facts and notice differences in what the other person is saying. Our own judgement is the obstacle to achieving this level.
- Level 3 is where we practice empathetic listening. We now move beyond opening our mind to opening our hearts. At this level, we start to see through the other person's eyes and develop an emotional connection. Cynicism will put a monkey wrench into this level of listening.
- Level 4 is generative listening. At this final level, we open our will to the other person's point of view. We connect to an emerging future whole. This will result in a shift in identity and self. Our fear is the main roadblock to achieving this enlightened level.
In today's fast paced world where everyone is out for themselves, you can see where listening with this kind of depth is rare. Author Gary Cohen states it well in "Mastering the 4 levels of listening", We're used to getting what we want when we want it in this on-demand world. Listening is about others. It's about giving them what they want and need. It's about connecting with others on many different levels.
Here is another possibility to ponder. With the difficult discussions that seem to be happening on a regular basis in our world today, if everyone practiced these four levels of listening, I can only imagine the world would be a much better place. Do your part and practice this in your daily life, see if it makes a difference for you.