The Art of Listening - International Coaching Federation
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The Art of Listening

Posted by Krasimir Kashinov, MBA, PMP, ACC | July 22, 2019 | Comments (8)

There are many resources on public speaking, and there are practical tips on how to become a better speaker. But, how do you become a better listener, and why do you want to be one?

Habit 5 in the book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, by Stephen Covey, states: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” or listen first then speak. Covey explains that people often do not listen in a conversation; instead, they rush to talk and give advice or opinion. The reason is that we relate the information we hear to our own experiences, and we do not make a deliberate effort to understand the other side. Nevertheless, active listening and understanding are the keys to effective communication in business and in life. In the book, Co-Active Coaching, Henry and Karen Kimsey-House explain the three levels of listening and how the art of listening can be cultivated.

Level 1

Level 1 listening is an interaction where the primary focus of the listener is on their own thoughts, opinions, judgments and feelings. People relate the words they hear to their experiences or needs. This type of listening is entirely appropriate when we are facing a decision or when we must collect information. If we are buying a car, for example, we will be listening at Level 1 to the salesperson to see how the car features will fit our needs and budget.

Level 2

Level 2 listening takes the communication way ahead. The undivided attention of the listener is entirely on the speaker and on the conversation. This means not only hearing what is being said but also noticing how it is said. It involves paying attention to the tone of voice, body language and facial expressions. This type is the empathic listening concept explained by Covey, including paraphrasing and reflecting on the words of the speaker.

The listener can filter out their internal chatter and any distraction from the environment. As a result, the listener can tune in to the meaning of the words, choose a way to respond, and assess the effect of the response on the speaker. Level 2 listening is a skill that professional coaches use in their communication, but Henry and Karen Kimsey-House take it even further.

Level 3

Level 3 listening brings an entirely new state of awareness to the conversation. It involves doing everything at Level 2, plus using intuition and being open to receiving more information in any form that it presents itself. This means tuning in not only to the conversation but to the environment.

The use of intuition can be misunderstood because it is not based on hard facts. The concept of intuition is, in fact, simple and can be an excellent communication asset. If you get a hunch, for example, while listening to your conversational partner, consider bringing it up but do not be attached to it. Without insisting on being right, observe the effect it has on the speaker and be aware of where the conversation goes next. For instance, you may say: “I understand that you are happy with the results, but I have a feeling that you have something else on your mind.” The response may be, “No, not really,” or “Yes, actually, I wanted to tell you about this issue that came up with our project.” It is irrelevant if you are right or wrong; what is important is the effect on the conversation.

The art of listening takes time to develop, but it can be practiced daily. It is especially useful when negotiating or persuading others. It builds trust and understanding. It is important to note that understanding is not the same as agreement; you may not share the same opinion of the other person, but you come to understand the way they think. One of the benefits of being a good listener is the extra information and time gained to create a helpful and effective response that will further the conversation.

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Krasimir Kashinov, MBA, PMP, ACC

Krasimir Kashinov, MBA, PMP, ACC, is a management consultant and ICF-Credentialed coach with a background in business strategy and operations. Learning, continuous improvement and creative thinking are some of the things he is passionate about. Krasimir is a director of Integral Links LLC, a community of coaches and consultants dedicated to helping individuals and organizations achieve their strategic goals. Connect with Krasimir Kashinov on LinkedIn.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

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Comments (8)

  1. sherouk says:

    thanks for the insight you gave in this article. i am amazed how different are the three levels. and how deep it touches the core of coaching

    • Chaitanya says:

      Listening skills surely looks simple but looking at the three levels it gives us a flavour how deeper one can go from content and facts to body language , tone and facial expression.

      On further drilling it down one looks at intuition and in case of disagreement it still gives you another view which might be helpful in your decision making and understanding a newer perspective .
      Thanks 🙏

  2. says:

    Krasimir, this is a great overview of the levels of listening. Can you point us to resources which give particle strategies for developing Level 2 and Level 3 listening skills?

    Thank you,

    • Listening is a core skill that is often overlooked. Individuals sometimes believe that because they hear something that they are listening. That is far from the truth.

      I did research about 3 years ago to find practical tools and books to assist my clients to develop their listening skills. There were few and so I wrote the book She said it with her eyes He heard it in her smile with practical theory and pragmatic exercises. If you would like to chat about this topic further, I may be reached through my website.

  3. Jaret Thompson says:

    Appreciate learning the distinction between the levels and more happy to hear how the intuition part is defined and acknowledged!

  4. Hi Krasimir,
    Excellent article. Listening is such an incredibly underrated skill! I love how the 3 levels of listening can directly show where our awareness is at any point in time.
    By becoming a better listener, you can improve so many aspects of your life and of course your coaching practice. Things like your ability to influence, persuade and negotiate improve too. Also, you’ll be better equipped to handle conflict and misunderstandings. All of these are essential and part of success at work!

    Thanks again for sharing,

  5. says:

    The Art of Listening at the ultimate level is the ability to hear what’s not being said, that which is silent – between the lines. And that’s the most demanding way of listening, yet often the most rewarding.

  6. says:

    This is great. I am now aspiring to step into Level 3 more often!

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