Level 3 Listening That Leads to Growth

Published on
February 1, 2023
Contributors
Tony D. Thelen
Strategic Advisor, John Deere Financial
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One of biggest problems I believe I have had in my life is inadequate listening skills. I don't think I necessarily have "poor" listening skills, I just think that my skills are "inadequate" given the many demands in a given day. It doesn't matter if it's at work, at home, on the phone, in person, remotely, or even in church listening to a sermon.

This year I decided to really focus on this area of my development and I'd like to share what I learned over the last 12 months.

One of the biggest concepts I learned was the Three Levels of Listening in the Co-Active Leadership Training Fundamentals class. For more on Co-Active Training please see: Training | Co-Active Training (coactive.com

The three levels are:

Level 1: This is really listening to respond, where you are hearing the other person, but your focus is really on you.

Level 2: This is where you pivot your focus and attention to the other person. You have undivided attention to what the other person is saying.

Level 3: This is the highest form of listening. The listening here is expansive and receptive of everything around you including the environment, senses, emotions, feelings, and more intuitive.

A good diagram that explains this concept from the Co-Active institute is shown below.

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As I started to really understand the way Level 3 listening worked it started to impact me in other ways as well. For example:

  • I changed how I spent my time. Each month I meet with between 15-20 people on a one-on-one basis. After I studied level 3 learning I changed these meetings to focus solely on the individual, included even up to the point where the individual had the option to cancel our meeting if nothing of critical import was on the agenda. This subtle but powerful change had several lasting impacts. First it signaled my intention to focus on my colleagues and what they needed and not what I wanted to know. Second it focused our time on critical issues, and less on regular update type conversation that could be shared on e-mail or other forums. Third, it allowed us to explore these fewer issues more deeply, leading to better insights and understanding. Lastly, it gave us the precious commodity of time back when we truly didn't need to talk.
  • I started asking better questions. When I really started to listen deeply and more expansively, I naturally started asking better questions. By better questions I mean more open-ended questions that extended the meaning and depth of the issues. I got better at brief questions and getting out of the way for others to explain things in more detail. By dealing with fewer but more impactful issues, and exploring them with better questions, I was able to grow as a servant leader by truly understanding issues my colleagues were dealing with on an entirely new level.
  • I started to build better relationships. As I started listening at Level 3, I started hearing more than just business topics. I started learning more about people's lives. I can't say exactly when I noticed it first, but at some point I started paying more attention to what was going on with my colleagues in addition to business the issues. I learned more about them as a person and what they were dealing with as we worked through issues. I think they were telling me these things all along, but I just wasn't capable of hearing them the way I do today.

I am sure this concept isn't a new concept and I had heard it before. In fact one of the best listeners I've ever met is Paul Axtell who taught a course called "Foundations" early in my career where he spoke to us about the magic of truly listening to someone else. Paul has written some great books on this topic and to this day is a great mentor to many people when it comes to communication skills. Check out his 18 question "listening" audit to see where your opportunities may lie. Listening is a critical skill—Take this audit to see how you’re doing | Paul Axtell

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