Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity (Simon Weil)
How well developed do you feel your listening skills are?

Have you experienced being in a conversation with someone and becoming aware that they are no longer listening to you? Maybe they have glanced to check notifications on their phone one too many times. Maybe they are looking over your shoulder at someone behind you, their attention wandering. It isn’t a great feeling is it?

Let’s flip the above for a moment and think about a time when you have felt truly listened to. When someone not only made the time to listen but also gave you their undivided attention. In these situations there is a sense of connection that makes it an altogether different experience.

It is easy to take listening for granted and so here’s a question – how good do you think you are at listening? When was the last time you exercised your listening muscle? If you were to check in with it at different times during the day tomorrow how well do you think you would be listening? Are there people you find it hard to listen to? Do you feel your attention span getting shorter as your mind is going over all the things on your to do list?

If you do a search on ‘listening skills’ you will notice is that most models of listening adopt a approach based on levels of listening. There are different models with varying numbers of levels – ranging from 3-8 but the approach is the same. The higher the level the deeper your listening.  In my training as a personal coach we were introduced to a 3 level model which I’m going to share.

Level 1 listening

When we are listening at level 1 the focus is on ourselves. The conversation is filtered through the lens of what does this mean for us and what is going on for us. For example I may ask you a question but, as you answer, the talk going on in my head goes something like, “Oh did my phone just ping, I wonder who’s trying to contact me”. Or, “Oh I know just how you feel that reminds me of when I……..” . Perhaps, “I’m not sure how to stop you because I need to be somewhere else soon”. I am in the room but only half listening to what you are saying.

Level 2 listening

When we listen at level 2 the focus shifts from me to you. The background chatter going on in my head disappears. You will know that you are being listened to. Not only am I hearing the words you are saying but I am aware also of the tone, pace, intonation of what you are saying. The connection is deeper and my attention is focused. You will definitely feel heard.

Level 3 listening

When we’re listening at level 3 the focus becomes even deeper and this, for a lot of us, is where there is room for developing our listening skills.

This level of listening enables us to connect with the energy in the room and how it is changing, helps us to pick up on shifts in emotions and attitude. As a listener we become conscious of the impact of the conversation. What is not being said as well as what is being said. We are immersed totally in the conversation, oblivious to things going on around us and totally tuned in.

This is one of the learning spaces I’m in at the moment and especially with regard to listening on the telephone. It is oh so easy to flip in and out of level 1 and 2 on the phone. No one would know if I checked my emails or walked around the kitchen doing things with my microphone on mute would they. Actually even on the phone I bet you would. It is very easy to hear someone tapping away on a key board and easier still to detect when someone’s attention has shifted. I am however still exploring what level 3 looks and feels like on the phone.

So, returning to the question posed at the start of this post – when was the last time you exercised your listening muscle? How much attention have you paid to your listening?
An insightful TED Talk
If it was a while ago here is a TED talk that is worth listening to. As with all TED Talks it’s around 18 minutes. Here is a challenge – how easy is it for you to sit and give it your full attention? Yes, for the whole 18 minutes and I mean full attention. No sneaking a peak at your mobile or email, no having it on in the background whilst doing something else.
The perspective Willian Ury is speaking from is that of a mediator. There are some important points in what he says about the power of listening and of being listened to.