The Difference Between the Three Levels of Listening

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It is quite interesting to explain first the difference between the three levels of listening as identified by the authors of 'Co-Active Coaching'. Our listening level differs depending on the role we are playing in a conversation, whether as regular individuals or as coaches, therapists, counselors, etc... We use different levels where each level leads to different results in the communication process.

Level one is commonly used in everyday life, where the focus is on one's self and his/her thoughts, interpretation and reflecting on his/her own experiences during the conversation rather than that of the speaker. The level of self-talk is usually very high at this level which prevents the listener from focusing on the message the speaker is trying to convey.

Listening at level two is when the listener is focused on the speaker's story, interests, feelings, and emotions. Both the speaker and the listener are bonded with a connection at this level allowing the speaker to open up trusting the listener, feeling respected and genuinely cared for and understood while the listener is keeping his/her thoughts and judgment away from the equation. The listener is fully attentive at this level and it is the most frequently used level during a coaching session.

The highest form of listening is level three, which is referred to as 'Global Listening'. It is the level where the listener is not only fully attentive but on top of using his/her intuition and reading all the surrounding input and sensing signals. It is listening to the spaces between the words and the emotions lying behind these words and spaces. This is the highest form of listening to be used by a coach, allowing him/her to listen to what is not seen, heard or verbalized.

The question raised here is: How does 'listening' in a coaching relation impact inner peace and inner freedom? While studying, coaches learn how to listen on a deep level, eliminating our self-thoughts and analysis, focusing only on the coachees' words, silent moments, voice tonality, pace, hesitation or confidence levels, and every other factor that reflects the coachees' emotional and mental state. We get to discover the valuable meaning of 'listening' which is, how to understand another person from their perspective, through letting go of our self, in terms of thoughts and judgments, and being genuine, compassionate empathetic and accepting.

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This enables a relationship of pure trust, where coachees allow themselves to open up, exploring their deepest thoughts, feelings, and emotions, giving them the space to discover themselves on a much deeper level leading to an advanced level of self-awareness through articulating their thoughts and listening out loud to themselves. This self-discovery journey will allow them to analyze their stories, with all their elements, clarify, and understand them. This is a higher level of conversation performed between one and him/herself, with the coach acting as a mediator only, his/her sole role is to listen and ask questions, some derived from the coachees' answers and others challenging the coachee to dig deeper that would intrigue further introspection and analysis leading to more awareness.

Henri Nouwen speaks of listening as “the highest form of hospitality” where hospitality is “the creation of free space... where change can take place. The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free....not a subtle invitation to adopt the life style of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.”iv

A quote beholding wisdom, and requires a true understanding of the concept of listening to be able to relate to what Nouwen is saying. The space needed for change cannot be created if packages of obstacles whether internal or external are not analyzed and processed then released, creating a free space inside the coachee's heart and mind, making them ready to be replaced with constructive and empowering thoughts to find the answers they seek and help them resolve and grow.

In his definition, Nouwen, explains the core value of 'listening', where it invites coachees to unload their thoughts and emotions, by being genuinely listened to, feeling valued and respected, where the coach simply lets go of any personal thoughts and judgment but at the same time is totally objective, totally dedicated and detached from the coachees, for the latter to discover themselves and take their own path. 

By being listened to, coachees unload and every time they unload, a free space is created which fosters an environment for discovery, always reaching a higher level of self-awareness by having a deeper contact with their existential situation, away from any internal and external influences, which would create clarity and clarity is the power needed to create the change they seek that would eventually lead to achieving the goals they set. These achievements promote a sense of fulfillment and contentment.

Loads of books have been written on how questions change lives and create the major shift in any coaching relationship that leads to magical outcomes, whether in organizations or with individuals, shedding light on how great answers are only derived from great questions. After all, coaching is helping people learn rather than teaching them and what makes them learn is their search for the answers to the questions asked that lead to the awareness they need in general and self-awareness in particular, to be able to take action for change.

Author and life coach Julie Starr has written in her book The Coaching Manual: “In coaching a beautifully timed, perfectly worded question can remove barriers, unlock hidden information and surface potentially life-changing insights. In other words to be a great coach you need to be able to ask great questions”v. However the definition of great questions in coaching does not mean sophisticated ones, but more clear cut, simple worded, well-timed questions that have a purpose, either to gather information or that would help clients know themselves and discover their motives, challenges, hidden courage, talents and potentials to create the change they seek, navigating options and promoting a sense of responsibility for the actions they commit to.

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