Levels of Listening (LOL) | Key Skill for a Leader and a Coach

  • Publisher:  Leadership Tribe
  • Author:  Aarti Bhatt

Listening is a vital role in coaching, agile mentoring, counselling, therapy and many other lines of work. Everybody talks about how important it is to actively listen; but it is alarming, how little we think about it and actually listen. How often are we actually implementing true listening skills? Do levels of listening (LOL) exist?

Listening to Coaching

There is much more to listening than simply hearing words; including the other things, we’re doing when we’re listening to someone. There are a few types of listening when engaged in a conversation at any point in time. As listeners if we become aware of what type of listening we are engaging in and if it is suitable for the task at hand, it would considerably change our effectiveness as listeners.

Most of us would like to believe that we are good listeners, and we feel so most of the time. There are times when listening isn’t as easy as we think it to be and we are not actually listening. For instance, we have emotions that tend to get in the way of active listening. This particularly happens when an individual is angry or stressed. But when are we actually ready to listen?

As a coach, you should be able to listen to what is being said, but also be cognizant of what is not said. One should learn and know how to use open and powerful questions to create an engaging conversation. A few examples of powerful questions are:

  • What would you like to achieve from this session?
  • Who can help you achieve this?
  • What does it feel like?
  • What are your other options?
  • What have you tried so far?

Using this approach, one can improve their listening skills significantly. One should be comfortable with the silence that comes along with it too. This silence is also a crucial aspect as it gives the speaker an opportunity to reflect on what is being spoken of. The combination of powerful questions and reflection can considerably result in invaluable insight and progress.

Listening Situations         

Listening occurs in a discussion with an individual or a group of people. It could be family, friends, colleagues or even a stranger where you may find yourself in the level 1 of listening. As we go further, we will be discussing the 3 different levels of listening.

The Dilemma

Communication involves one person sending a message through words and/or actions, and another person that receives it. But what happens when the other individual is not listening? If level 2 & 3 of listening are not being imparted it causes misunderstanding and frustration amongst the individuals, and agreements don’t get completed. More often than not, it is due to the other person not actively listening.

Listening Skills

Lack of listening can severely compromise a conversation; it gets even more evident when it occurs in a formal and intimate relationship. The various levels of listening that we display in our conversations are

Level 1 – Internal Listening

Have you ever been in a situation where another individual is talking to you and you find your mind drifting to other thoughts; thoughts which are usually not anywhere related to the conversation at hand? It could be a situation where your boss is talking to you about the agenda for the day. You are physically present in front of him/her, but mentally your mind may be wandering far away. For example, “Did I turn off the stove at home?” or “What should I do after work?”. This is referred to as Internal Listening. The listener is there but has his or her focus on themselves and their own thoughts rather than the speakers. To be a good coach or listener, this is not the level of listening to you should be engaging in; after all, it is about the about individual talking and his/her needs, and not yours.

Level 2 – Focused Listening

Focused listening is when the person listening is focused on the individual talking and picking up on what is being said, and he/she is physically and mentally present in the conversation. You are creating a connection with the individual talking and are aware and present of the environment you are in. You don’t find yourself getting distracted or thinking about yourself, but instead, you are thinking about them and making the conversation with them and are able to derive more value from it.

As a listener, you are giving your full attention and asking questions about how they feel about the situation, what they did, and offering advice etc. If you think back to a situation where you were listening to an individual with all your attention, you will see that your body language is refined and you find yourself maybe nodding along to the conversation (mirroring) and maybe asking more questions and being physical, mentally & emotionally present.

Level 3 – Global Listening

Global Listening is all about giving your complete attention to the individual talking. All your senses are alive and kicking. You find yourself able to channel all your focus to the speaker. You pick up more on what is being said, and you pick up emotions, body language etc.

At this level, you can observe what you see, hear, smell, feel; as well as the emotional aspect (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic). It is also referred to as environmental listening. For example, your friend is talking to you about her awesome vacation that she returned from and listening to her you almost feel like you are there yourself and experiencing the emotions your friend had.

Key areas where it is implemented
  • One to one coaching sessions
  • With family at home
  • Leaders that work with teams
  • Standups
  • Retrospectives
  • Backlog maintenance
Pros & Cons

The advantage of implementing level 2 and 3 of listening is that there is clearer communication and a peaceful environment with individuals and teams. There is a higher level of openness and an increased level of comfort.

There isn’t any negative impact to using these levels, with the exception of an individual remaining in level 1 listening.


It takes patience, practice and time to master the art of listening. Implementing level 2 & 3 of listening will certainly improvise your effectiveness as a coach, leader, mentor or just as an individual. There will certainly be times when you may fall back to level 1 of listen. That’s ok, but when you realize that is happening, ensure to return to level 2 & 3.

At Leadership Tribe, our coaches and trainers shall pace with you to achieve significant listening skills and enable you to engage more powerfully with people in your professional and personal space. Learn more by connecting with us or drop in a message to let us know on areas you need us to work upon.

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