September 29


3 Levels of Listening Every Leader Should Know

Oprah Winfrey once said, “Every single person you will ever meet shares a common desire. They want to know: Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?”

Your ability to be a great leader will never trump your ability to be a great listener. When we as leaders get so busy-being-busy, we often don’t slow down long enough to make sure our intent matches the impact we want to make. As a result, we make people feel invisible and we erode our relationships and credibility.

Here’s the ugly truth: leaders who don’t listen take more than just your time and energy. They take your trust.

Three years ago I hired a contractor to rebuild the deck on my house. He and I sat down at the kitchen table and went over my expectations so there was no miscommunication. I explained I wanted the original deck completely removed and new wood purchased. Imagine my surprise and frustration when I came home to see that the new foundation of my deck had been built from the previous wood. All trust I had for the contractor was gone because he didn’t listen and he made me feel like what I said didn’t matter. Needless to say, that relationship ended quickly.

According to The Center for Talent Innovation, communication constitutes 28% of your executive presence. Coaches and training programs spend a lot of time teaching leaders how to frame the right words when we should focus our efforts on helping leaders use their presence to make others feel heard.

Dr. Paul Nutt of Ohio State University conducted more than two decades of research with hundreds of organizations on why business decisions go awry. He discovered three key reasons why 50 percent of decisions fail:

  1. More than one-third of all failed business decisions are driven by ego.
  2. Nearly two-thirds of executives never explore alternatives once they make up their minds.
  3. Eighty-one percent of managers push their decisions through by persuasion or edict, not by the relevance of their ideas.

Listening shapes your leadership impact because it is one’s inability to listen effectively that is the root problem in many organizational and relationship issues. You can be more intentional with how you show up and lead once you’ve identified which of the three levels of listening you show up in the most often.

Check out the three levels of listening below and answer the following questions:

  1. Which level of listening do I show up in most often?
  2. How does my level of listening impact my relationships?
  3. What triggers me into level 1 listening? What do I want to do about it?
  4. How would being a better listener impact others’ perceptions of me?
  5. What is one specific action I can take to be a better listener?

Level 1: Ego Listening
Focus: Me
Intent: Listen to be right
Core Actions: think about how to respond and think how the information applies to you, not be fully present, be critical of the information, and interrupt constantly

Level 2: Active Listening
Focus: You
Intent: Listen to understand what’s being said
Core Actions: listen to the words, lean forward, tilt/nod head when appropriate, face your feet to the individual, paraphrase, and ask follow-up questions

Level 3: Intuitive Listening
Focus: Energy
Intent: Listen to understand what’s NOT being said
Core Actions: identify the emotion underneath one’s words, read and adapt to body language, acknowledge and validate one’s feelings, trust your intuition, and seek clarity on what’s not being directly said

Being a great listener is not about getting it right every time. It’s about recognizing where you are in the moment and how your presence is impacting the other person. It’s about making a conscious choice to take responsibility for the energy you show up with every day. Without understanding the three levels of listening, then you cannot make a different choice. And as coaches, we believe your power always lies in your choices.

Sometimes the most effective choice you can make as a leader is to talk less and listen more. How you listen is just as important as your ability to listen. Your presence should tell people: I see you. I hear you. What you say means something to me.

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