In my last post, I talked about some of the reasons why we may not be as effective at listening as we could be. In their book, Communicating at Work, authors Tony Allessandra and Phil Hunsaker explain that there are actually four distinct levels of listening. According to the authors, some of us, such as overly chatty salespeople, never get past Level 2, known as marginal listening.
For reference, here are the 4 Levels of Listening and a brief description of what they involve:
- Non-listener: This so-called listener doesn’t hear what the speaker is saying at all. They are masters of faking attention and are too busy thinking about other things (usually their own brilliant response). They are focused on getting ready to speak and have to have the last word. More often than not, they are the stereotypical social bore and know-it-all.
- Marginal Listener: This person is capable of hearing sounds and words but not their meaning. This is superficial listening at best. These people are easily distracted and hear only what they want to hear (to the frustration of spouses everywhere!). This usually results in misunderstanding and confusion.
- Evaluative Listener: This person tries to hear what the speaker is saying but misses the intent. They are often emotionally detached and are focused strictly on content, not on the emotions behind the words. They are able to discern facts but miss the deeper meaning and gestures. This listener often forms opinions too quickly without deeper reflection.
- Active Listener: This is a listener who practices empathy and understanding. It is listening at the most effective level. Active listeners notice the underlying feelings of what is being said as well as the speaker’s intent. They are able to suspend their own thoughts and opinions in order to get the full picture. They do not interrupt the speaker and are perceptive to non-verbal cues. An active listener is able to focus on HOW something is said as well as WHAT is said. They also notice what is NOT being said. The three main skills of the active listener are sensing (getting the silent message), attending (giving acknowledgement and focused attention, presence) and responding (providing feedback, keeping other talking to get more information, showing genuine interest and making others feel understood)
The authors have also developed what they call the CARESS Model to become a more effective listener:
- Concentrate – Eliminate internal and external noise
- Acknowledge – Provide feedback
- Research – Ask questions, use empathic statements (3 parts: tentative statement, defining the feeling, situational context)
- Exercise Emotional Control – Understand before responding
- Sense the non-verbal message – Body language, intuition
- Structure – Organize information as you receive it
So, on what level of listening are you currently operating? If you’re looking to improve your communication skills and better understand the wants and needs of your clients, colleagues or suppliers, give a few of the above strategies and tactics a try. Then find a local Toastmasters meeting and put some of those listening skills into practice while learning to become a better speaker.