3 Levels of Listening

Every parent complains at some point their kids aren’t listening to them. Spouses often complain that they too don’t listen.  Yet, when we really break it down, how often do we REALLY listen to our kids, our spouses, our colleagues, and even our friends?
Different authors talk of three levels of listening.   Based on their findings, it would appear that we listen in different ways depending on the filters we add to the mix as we receive the data and process it.  The filters we use are influenced by our experiences.  We have come up with a point of reference to help us be aware of when we are listening and at what level.  Level 1 listening focuses on “I”, level 2 listening is focuses on “you”, and level 3 listening is open with the focus on the speaker.  We have chosen to define the 3 levels as follows:
When we use level 1 listening, we process the information we receive within the context of ourselves.  This means that whatever we hear, we process it such that we transfer whatever we hear so it is all about us (I), typically adding a bit of blame or judger into the mix.  We are not thinking about the other person because we hear the content as if it is part of us.
So if a parent hears their son say:  “My math teacher was so unfair today and gave us a surprise quiz and I had no idea it was coming.  I really bombed on the test and think it is so unfair.”  
The parents filters would create a process that said:  My son did not do well on a math quiz and needs to learn to be more prepared in the future.  I was the same way until I figured out that I needed to complete my homework for those teachers so I was ready.
A response a parent might make:  “Yes I can remember when I was in high school and surprise tests were sprung on us.  I learned that with the teachers who gave us surprise tests, I needed to be more prepared and I think you should now try to keep up with your math homework so you feel more prepared for the next one”.  This response is all about the parent (I) with a bit of judger towards their son when ‘should now try to keep up with your math homework’ is added.
In this conversation the parent takes what their son says and interprets it so it fits into their life.  How much empathy does the parent message towards their son?  What, if any support does the parent offer?  How understood will their sonfeel?
The parent did not provide any empathy, show support or understanding for their son.
Instead the parent told him what they did (25 years ago), assumed that because that worked for them then it will work for their son now, and told him how he should now do it.  How can we assume that what worked for us in the education system 25 years ago is what will be most effective today?  How can we assume that telling our child what to do is the most effective way to support him or her?
We tend to become critical of the other person and their comments because our experience is different.  When communicating from this perspective, we tend to jump to solving the problem, bringing the focus back to us, explaining our experience and solving the problem from our perspective.  When using this approach, we are inclined to use words such as ‘I think you should”, “if I were you I would” etc.
As parents, we want our children to be happy and to succeed.  It is very natural for us to think that what we did worked for us and thus it will work for them.  Unfortunately, when we tell others what to do, we do not always get the desired results as we are not able to solve their problems for them.
With Level 2 listening, we focus on the speaker and allow them to own their comments; however, we do so in a limited way.  We are still critical of them and think we know what is best for them.   When communicating with this perspective, we focus on the other person and yet we still want to lead them to their solution, thus our questions lead them to the conclusions we think are best for them.
So once again if a parent and son are talking and the son said: “My math teacher was so unfair today and gave us a surprise quiz and I had no idea it was coming.  I really bombed on the test and think it is so unfair”.    
The parent’s process might include:  My son needs to smarten up or he could fail math.  He needs to be more prepared for these tests.  He should spend more time studying math at night so he is not a failure.
The parent’s response might be:  “You need to spend more time studying math so you don’t fail.  You need to get some math drills from your teacher to do each night and show us your math homework every night.  You don’t want to fail math”.
This is still problem solving, in a critical judger way although the parent is holding the focus on their son and his problem without bringing their experiences into the mix.  Once again, the parent is telling him what the solution should be.  What is this parent messaging to his/her son? What are the opportunities for their son to understand how he can be successful?
With Level 3 listening, we are truly active in how we listen.  We focus on information from all sources to include words, tone, facial and body language, the environment etc.  This deep quality of communication involves focusing our full attention on what is being said and how it is being said.  We are free from blame as we process the data and are curious and open to what is important to the speaker.
Once again, if a parent’s son said:  “My math teacher was so unfair today and gave us a surprise quiz and I had no idea it was coming.  I really bombed on the test and think it is so unfair”.    
The parent might think: It appears my son is really upset he was caught unprepared and disappointed with how he did on his surprise test.  I wonder what he wants to do about this?  The parent might respond: “It sounds as if you were caught unprepared today and were not happy with how you think you did on the surprise test.  Given that this teacher may repeat this, how do you want to approach studying math in the future?  What could work for you to ensure you are prepared in a way that works for you when the next surprise test is given?”  Using this level of communicating, the parent is curious about what their son wants to do himself, not what the parent would do or what the parent thinks their son should do.  The parent is curious about what their son wants to do and is open to listening to how he wants to change his approach to studying math.
How parents hear what their kids say influences how they respond. What is the difference in what is said in level 3 when compared to level 1 or 2?  What is different about the message that is given to the child? With level 3 listening, the parent’s response messages they believes their son can figure this out for himself and trust he is capable of working out a solution himself that will really work for him. This also reinforces within himself that he is capable of solving his own problems. With level 1 or 2 listening and responding, the parent provides a different message.   The parent can solve this problem more effectively than their son.  The parent has the answers that will be best for their son. The parent can help him and thus make his life easier for him, and ultimately the parent.  The parent doesn’t trust that their son can figure this out himself.  The parent assumes their son’s needs and, often thinking they are “helping”, wants  to solve their problems.  This in turn reinforces a message within the child that he is incapable of solving his own problems, that he needs someone to tell him what to do in a time of conflict, the telling doesn’t allow for an opportunity of reflective learning, and can leave the child with a sense of “why am I getting blamed for this, my parents aren’t listening to me”.
When looking at these levels of communicating, which one provides the message we want to give to our children so they become confident young adults who can be successful in their own lives?  Watch throughout the day in your conversations with your kids, spouse, friends, co-workers etc and be aware of what level of listening you are on.  How is it affecting your communication?  How is it serving you and your family?
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6 thoughts on “3 Levels of Listening

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