Two or three weeks ago, I had some special situations and I asked myself “what kind of listener am I?” In the last 5 years, I have read a few books/articles about the level of “listening” we need depending of the situation, but I really liked how it was described in the “Co-active Coaching” book . Before continuing, for those who haven’t read the book yet, I will do a small synopsis of the 3 levels of “listening” described in the book:
Level I – “Internal Listening”
At this level, we listen to the words of the other person, but our attention is on what it means to us personally. The most important thing here is “me”: my thoughts, my judgments, my feelings, my conclusion about myself and others. We are absorbing information by listening but holding it in a trap that recycles it. At Level I there is only one question: “what does this mean to me?”
Level II – “Focused Listening”
At this level, there is a sharp focus on the other person. Sometimes you can see it in each person’s posture: both learning forward, looking intently at each other. There is a great deal of attention on the other person and not much awareness of the outside world. Level II is the level of empathy, clarification, collaboration. It is as if there is a wired connection between the people involved in the talk.
Level III – “Global Listening”
When we listen at Level III, we listen as though we were at the center of the universe, receiving information from everywhere at once. This level includes everything we can observe with our senses: what we see, hear, smell, and feel (tactile and emotional sensation). It includes the action, the inaction and the interaction.
Now, with these introductions, I want to express the difficulty I found in the past weeks in switching from Level I to Level II. Sometimes, our emotions and feelings play against us and we are not able to realize at what level we are and what level we need to be to get the best result from both sides. I am using “we” because I am able to see this behavior in others also, and I can see that I am not the only one in this trap. It is not the first time I’ve had this issue and it will not be the last but if we have a strategy in mind to detect it and fix it, we will see the impact and results coming very soon.
Having said this, I wanted to share with you what I normally do when these situations arise. Based on my personal experience, I have 2 scenarios:
- You detect it in the middle of your talk/discussion
- You detect it at the end of the talk/discussion
(Note: I really think that it could be more situations or scenarios, but, for me, these ones are the more frequent)
Scenario 1 – “You detect it in the middle of your talk/discussion”
Since we are humans, it could happen that emotions and feelings pop up in the middle of one’s talk. At that moment, and if I detect them I try one of these actions:
- If emotions are not very high, I reset the talk and point out that I had an emotional answer/reaction and I detected the same on the other side. Since this is not good for any of us, I strongly recommend to avoid emotions in the conversation. In my experience, if emotions are not very high, I am able to switch to the right level of listening and get the best result of that discussion.
- If emotions are running high, we have a high risk of becoming aggressive or of getting aggressive comments from others. In these instances I try to stop the conversation in a good way. Sometimes, depending on the situation and the relationship, we can point out our level of emotions and re-schedule the meeting for another time. If I decide not to do that, I try to be very polite and point out my inability to continue with this conversation. Maybe it is not the best way to abandon the conversation, but if I take a good look at the moment I did it, and evaluate the results I got by doing it; it is a good thing to do if the situation demanded.
Scenario 2 – “You detect it at the end of the talk/discussion”
Maybe you think that it might be too late to do something, but I can tell you that it is never too late to come back to a conversation without a charge of emotions. Normally what I do in this case, after a self-retrospective, I point this out to the person/group of person and they understand the situation very well and all together we do a small reflection of the conversation and the action that we took. Sometimes we realize that the “actions”/”results” are not so bad (we can live with them or try them), and sometimes we will correct them (now, without the influence of emotions).
So now, do you want to know what kind of listener I am? Well, as you see, I am human, so my target listening level is always Level II and III. However, from time to time, I am trapped in emotions and feelings. It is not a big deal if I can detect it quickly enough. Lately, I can say that I am becoming faster and faster in detecting it. As soon as I detect it, I play my best strategy to the situation.
What about you? Do you have experiences in these situations or something similar? What about your strategy to come back to the right level of listening?
Did you read the “Co-active Coaching” book? What experience do you have with “Listening” levels?