Levels of Listening

Listening is the single most important connection skill that you can develop. This skill will do more to deepen connection than any other. Do you really know how to listen? There are two distinct types of listening that I will label as “Conversational Listening” and “Therapeutic Listening”.

Levels of Conversational Listening

Conversational listening happens when two people have a conversation. I don’t count a trip to the woodshed like a lecture from your boss as conversation… that’s not what I am talking about here. Conversational listening has no significant power differential. If there is an exercised power differential like a lecture from your boss, then it is does not fall under the umbrella of conversational listening.

Level 0: Elsewhere

You might as well be shouting at a wall. Maybe your voice is drowned out by other noises or maybe the person is simply ignoring you. If you want them to hear you, you must take some action to get their attention. Another example is what a toddler may experience when trying to get the attention of her parent who is talking on the phone.

Level 1: Chatter

Party conversations. Your ego is having a contest with the other person’s ego to see who can best the other. There is no real conversation happening here. Essentially, you are speaking across each other instead of with each other. There is often a competitive feel to this type of conversation. As they are telling you their story about the boss from hell, you are thinking of a better story.

Level 2: Superficial

You are listening to what the other person is saying, connecting what they say with experiences in your life, and when it is your turn, you will share your experiences with them. Great for sharing experiences and staying at a relatively superficial level. This is also the gateway to Authentic Connection.

Level 3: Authentic

The highest level of conversational listening is the Authentic level, where both parties are listening deeply to the other and showing up increasingly transparent and authentic. These are the conversations that can be remembered for a lifetime. It’s relatively easy to start a Superficial conversation, but an Authentic conversation usually needs some warm up. Used wisely, a superficial conversation can lead to an Authentic conversation.

Levels of Therapeutic Listening

Therapeutic listening requires permission from the person being listened to. In this type of exchange, one person is doing most, if not all of the talking while the other person is simply listening and possibly drawing the speaker to a deeper and more authentic awareness. I number these as a continuation of Conversational Listening because it would be confusing to have two different levels with the same number.  

Level 4: Directed

Listener is experiencing the speaker in his or her entirety, observing body language while listening to the speaker’s words. Listener listens to what is not said, which is often even more important than what is said. At this level of listening, listener’s dialogue bears little resemblance to a Superficial (level 2) conversation. The other person is speaking and listener is listening and occasionally acknowledging, paraphrasing and reflecting what the speaker is saying. Listener may ask the speaker to “Say more about…” or “Can you go a bit deeper?” Listener is encouraging the speaker to go to the deepest level he or she is comfortable with. Listening at this level requires that the listener be comfortable hearing whatever the speaker says without getting triggered or threatened. This is why it is often difficult to reach this level with close friends and family members. There may be lots of history that is loaded with landmines that can easily derail a deep conversation.

Level 5: Empathic

As listener learns to park his/her ego and meditate entirely on “the other”, occasionally they may hear or sense something that is coming from outside and passing through. It may be an intuitive hunch or simply a question that comes from listener’s lips but not from listener’s brain. When you have Empathic listening experiences, you may feel a deep spiritual connection and become a “hollow bone” through which something passes that is greater than you. You may see amazing shifts in the energy of a person or an entire group of people.

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