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  • Writer's pictureKohei Yoshino

How to Actively Listen - 3 Levels of Listening

Updated: Mar 8, 2022

Active listening skill is one of the top leadership skills and yet is often not worked on due to the misconception that you either have it or not. Though it is probably true that the ability to listen actively and deeply comes naturally to some and not everyone, it is something any one of us can work on and get better at.

3 Levels of Listening

If you have taken any courses in leadership or management, there is a strong chance that you've heard that there are different levels of listening. For those of you who haven't, here's the quick summary:

  • Level 1 - At this level, the focus is on you and you are listening through your own personal filters, assumptions, and judgments.

  • Level 2 - At this level, the focus goes back and forth between you and the person whom you are listening to. Though you are listening, you are listening with the intent to reply. From my experience, this is the level that the majority of people operate at.

  • Level 3 - When you are listening at this level, your full attention is on the speaker. You are completely present and listening deeply to really understand what is going on within the person. You are listening to not just words but feelings and meaning of what is being said.

Active listening skill is like a muscle you can train at the gym. The more you practice, the easier it gets to access and stay at level 3.

Accessing different levels of listening

When thinking about the 3 levels, it is important to note that each level serves different purposes. Level 1 is great for gathering information while level 2 is useful when there is an expectation to provide answers (e.g., interviews). The real magic, however, happens when you are connecting with others at level 3. This is when you truly connect with and understand the person. By fully focusing on the person you are connecting with, you establish trust and create a space in which he or she can be vulnerable. It is not realistic to constantly operate at this level but as a leader, you must be able to interact with others at this level so try to develop this muscle by being aware of which level of listening you are operating at and attempting to operate at level 3 as much as possible. The key is to really listen with the intent to understand the person and not with the intent to respond. Try not to provide solutions to the problem the person has and instead just stay curious and ask questions.

Tips in reaching level 3

If you struggle to reach level 3 listening, try out the following techniques:

  • Make eye contact even if you feel uncomfortable

  • Remove any distractions and create an environment where you can fully be present (e.g., turning off phones and smartwatches or find yourself a quiet place when no one else is around)

  • Be comfortable with silence and give lots of space for the person you are speaking with to open up

  • Paraphrase or mirror what the person said to ensure that you really understood what he or she meant

  • Put yourself in the other person's shoes by asking yourself questions like "how would I feel if I were him or her?" or "what would I want if I were in his or her position?"

If you are committed to developing your active listening skills along with other leadership skills, book a complimentary discovery session with me here:


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