The Experience of Level III Listening
We’ve all had experience of Level I listening. A lot of the conversations we have at work are indicative of Level I listening and this is entirely appropriate. At this level, we may be engaged in hearing what the other person is saying, but our thoughts are self-focused. For example, you may have a certain agenda in the conversation and you’re trying to get information. As the other person answers your questions and makes additional comments, you’re extracting only the information that is useful for your own purposes. In other words, you evaluate everything you hear in terms of “what’s in this for me to use?” You may not hear everything that is said because you’re only focused on what you need to know.
Level II listening puts the focus more firmly on the other person. Often we listen at this level when we’re trying to do some problem-solving with the other person. At level II, your awareness is heightened. You want to make sure you fully understand what the other person is trying to say, and to do that, you attend to non-verbal cues. You may feel a lot of empathy, so that if the person tears up, you find your own eyes becoming moist. If the person is sharing some upsetting information, you may feel outrage for them. You mirror the person back to them and feel very much as though the two of you are connected through the conversation. You’re very aware of yourself, however, and while you still have your own agenda, it’s a shared agenda with the other person. And you’re mindful of your responses so as to be as helpful, understanding, and creative-thinking as possible.
Level III is a very different experience. I’ve not only experienced it during some of my most memorable coaching sessions, I’ve heard it described by others who engaged in this deep level of communication. Perhaps the best way for me to describe Level III listening is to share comments I’ve heard in which it was apparent that the listener was in a state of true communion with the speaker.
“I found myself speaking words I hadn’t thought about before they left my mouth. And what I said seemed to be the exact thing he needed to hear.”
“It was as if someone else was speaking through me. I knew that my job was to stay open to what the person was telling me but also to what I was supposed to tell her in response.”
“Some of the things I said in response to him were so insightful and brilliant! I hadn’t realized that I had those thoughts before I articulated them.”
Level III listening opens channels between you and your mentee that allows for an inner or greater intelligence to shine through. It’s almost as though there’s a third person in the conversation—someone who knows what the person needs to hear and can articulate it in such a way that the message provides insight. When you’re engaged in Level III listening, you don’t think or worry about what to say. And if nothing comes to mind for you to say, you’re perfectly comfortable being silent until something does. You may hold a question in your mind as you wait for something to occur to you to say—something like “What does the person need to hear from me?” After the conversation is over, you feel remarkably refreshed and satisfied, knowing that you were 100% present to the person and therefore the most effective you could have been. Your mentee continues to garner greater insight from your comments well after the session is over.
Level III listening is most appropriate in a mentoring relationship. It provides you and your mentee with an opportunity that most conversations you conduct at work do not—an opportunity to give yourself over to another person’s agenda with the knowledge that you are just the right person to do so. It is truly the most rewarding aspect of mentoring, and one that you will want to experience with everyone you mentor.