Don’t Settle For Just “Listening”
In our last Influential Leadership entry, we discussed how critical it is to incorporate coaching into our leadership style. One of the most underrated coaching skills, equally important to developing client relationships and managing people on your team, is the skill of listening. Did you know that there are different levels of listening?
Level 1 Listening: Self-Focused Listening (SFL)
When we engage in SFL, the focus is on ourselves. We listen to the words of the other person but the focus is on what it means to us. At this level the spotlight is on me: my thoughts, my judgments, my feelings, my conclusions about myself and others. At Level 1 there is only one question: what does this mean to me?
There are times when this type of listening is entirely appropriate. For example, if you’re traveling alone to a different city, you’re operating at Level 1 most the time — thinking about where to check in, did I remember my ticket, how much time before the flight, should I get something to eat first, etc.
Another example of “appropriate” Level 1 listening is at a restaurant. The waiter asks you what you’d like and you’re thinking, “should I have the steak or the fish?” You’re focused on what that question means to you. You’re probably not thinking at all about how this decision will impact the waiter and his life!
The Problem With “Level 1”
The problem with Level 1 listening is when we take it into our interaction with those we are leading or trying to influence. We can’t effectively coach or lead these people while operating in Level 1 listening mode.
But how often do we do this?
We wonder “what’s the next question I should ask?” We’re thinking more about the next question than we are staying present and listening and letting the questions flow naturally.
You’re on the phone talking with someone and you’re multitasking – checking your e-mail, typing a memo or doing other things?
What is the impact of listening at Level I on the relationships we value so highly?
Level 2 Listening: Other-Focused Listening (OFL)
In OFL, in contrast, there’s a sharp focus on the other person. All listening at Level 2 is directed at the person you are coaching or trying to influence. It is totally about them and not at all about you. We listen for their words, their expression, their emotion, everything they bring to the table. We notice what they say, and how they say it. We notice what they don’t say. We listen for what they value. We listen for what makes them come alive and what makes them go dead or withdrawal.
The challenge with OFL listening is staying in that mode – staying present. We’ll be listening to a person at Level 2 and all of a sudden we get a Level 1 thought. The key is to develop the awareness of this and quickly transition back to OFL.
What are the benefits of engaging in Level 2 listening?
- We will develop far greater rapport with those we lead or want to influence.
- We’ll develop a far greater understanding of their needs, challenges and problems.
- We’ll have a much better idea of how to help them solve their problems. This puts us in a strong position to influence and add value to the person and the greater organization.
The Level 2 Challenge
OFL listening is not easy as it sounds. A great exercise to gain proficient at this is
to take a couple of conversations a day and try listening at Level 2 for five minutes without having a Level 1 thought. You will find as you sharpen this skill, it will be easier to develop business and engage clients, as well as serve clients more effectively. Take on this challenge for the next 30 days and see for yourself.