Listening (Part 3)

Listening is a key skill for understanding what’s truly going on for those around you.  This is the first step in developing empathy.  Strong, healthy and productive relationships run on the empathy engine.

Level 1 listening is our internal listening.  It’s all about what’s going on inside us.  Level 2 listening brings our focus to what’s going on with the other person: we hear and understand their story.

At Level 3, we’re totally immersed in the other person’s world.  This is global listening, where we’re not only aware of the other person’s words but the nuances of meaning behind them.  Body language, tone of voice, and the speed at which the other person is talking enrich the information we’re hearing in their words.  Listening at this level is like the ‘flow’ states we sometimes get into when we’re fully immersed in our activity and the world beyond seems to recede.

At level 3, we can not only feed back what the other person said (“So what you’re saying is…”), we can ask about the undertones and unspoken communication.  “What I’m also hearing is…”

Critically, it’s important not to get attached to our assumptions at this level (which may actually represent us tuning back into level 1 mind chatter rather than truly being aware of the subtext.)  As a listener, you need to be able to let go of things you ‘heard’ which may not have been there at all.  Making an observation like “I notice you speed up/slow down/lower your voice/get louder every time you mention X” is an invitation for the person to elaborate on what they’ve just said; to help you understand the deeper meaning behind their words.

Listening at Level 3 will make you a listening ninja.  Quietly and non-intrusively, you’ll be discover more about them than you thought possible.  Not just what’s going on with them on the surface, but what’s happening fundamentally–their values, fears, and hopes for the future.  Level 3 listening builds trust between you and the person you’re listening to.  Best of all, just by listening, you’ll be helping them to learn about themselves.

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