At What Level Do You Listen?

I have been reading “Co-Active Coaching” as I prepare to pursue my coaching certification. The book is great and the CTI model is one I’m embracing. Within the CTI model, there are 5 contexts of Coaching: listening, curiosity, intuition, forward and deepen, and self-management. Today, I’m going to focus on listening.

Have you ever been having a conversation with someone and you immediately start thinking about yourself? How you would handle that situation in the story being told or what you’re going to say as soon as the person finishes? Or, how about when someone asks you a question and 2 sentences into your response, they have interrupted you or are offering you a solution? Or, they talk about how your story makes them feel?

According to CTI, there are 2 aspects of listening: awareness and impact. With awareness, we are listening with all of our senses. It’s not only what we hear with our ears, we are also taking in all of the energy of the interaction. The sounds, words, feelings, and images all make up the awareness of listening. What we do with this information is the impact. CTI breaks listening down to several levels. There is Level I, II, III, and Meta-View.

In Level I, the awareness focuses on ourselves. We are listening to the other person, but we are relating the story to what it means to us. While we are paying attention to the other person, our responses are entirely focused on ourselves. How am I feeling? What would I do in this situation? What does this mean to me?

In Level II, the awareness is totally focused on the other person. We are tuning into their body language, listening for what they value, how they see the world, and what is important to them. This is the “level of empathy, clarification, collaboration.” In coaching, our client owns the agenda and they come to us because there is something they want to change. By listening at Level II, we are able to uncover what it is they are dealing with and helping them see root causes and where they can make changes.

Level III(Global listening) and Meta-view take listening to a whole new level. See what I did there? They incorporate Levels I&II and also take in all of the other things happening in the environment. It’s that door slamming, the dog barking in the background, the sirens down the street. At Level III, we are able to read the room and the environment and adjust when needed.

As humans, we naturally default to Level I. We are a selfish bunch and, in some ways, Level I is where we make a connection and find common ground. And, we all like to talk about ourselves. We naturally want to help others, and by relating a story to ourselves, we think we are helping others work through problems like we have. But, listening at Level I can sometimes cause the other party to shut down. By bringing the attention on ourselves, we alienate the person who came to us for assistance with their own agenda. I am guilty of operating at this level. A lot.

At my HR team’s offsite, last week, I got the chance, along with my  co-worker, to lead and facilitate a discussion around the 5 contexts of coaching. We did some exercises around the levels of listening and I learned 2 things: 1). I don’t like to be listened to in Level I, and b). I suck at listening at Level II.

Listening takes a lot of practice and a lot more patience. It’s hard to listen to someone else’s story and not want to interject with a story of our own or share a similar story. During the exercise, I saw how I sucked the energy right out of the conversation when I listened at Level I. I saw the body language of my partner shift. The smile went away as I stole the thunder of their story and made it about myself. On the other hand, when I practiced listening at Level II, the feedback of my partner was just the opposite. They felt heard, like I was genuinely interested in what they had to say.

As HR professionals and leaders, we spend a lot of time at Level I. Through our many experiences, we think we know the right answer so we interject and guide the conversation based on what we’ve seen in the past. We assume we know what has happened or what the best solution is because we have seen it before. But, we often miss key pieces of information or don’t get to the root of the issue because we are not thinking of the employee or how they feel. We miss out on what’s ultimately best for that person because we spend so much time thinking of ourselves.

I have ruined more interactions than I can count because I was at a Level I. When I hear something that I can relate to or something I don’t agree with, my thoughts go crazy and I immediately jump into solve mode, or I blurt something out and interrupt the other person because I’m so excited to share my positive experiences. I have also had some conversations where I have listened at Level II. And, while this may be a little uncomfortable for me, at first, I have walked away knowing I helped that person come to a solution for themselves.

Now, maybe in a few years, I can write about how I’m successfully listening at Level III and beyond, but I need more practice!

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