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Levels of Listening - Fake through Empathic

What level of listening are you using most often, with whom, and in what settings?

Level 0: Cosmetic Listening (Fake Listening)

Your brain is collecting words but zero meaning. If I were to ask you “are you even listening?” You might say “yes” and be able to repeat the last 4-7 words but you aren’t really paying attention. You know when you are talking with someone and rather than making eye contact, they are looking past your shoulder or through the glass window? It’s a great feeling, right? That is fake listening because you are actually ignoring what the other person is saying - right in front of them.

Effect: Disregard, Dismissive, Rude

Level 1: Downloading (Listening Selectively)

You are gathering facts but only selectively. You are hearing and double-checking against what you already know and are not expecting any surprises. Someone is saying words and you are hearing words, but you aren’t communicating. Essentially, you are both just taking up space. Nobody is very present. The communication relationship is stale and full of disinterest.

Effect: Mutual Disregard, Tolerance, Pleasantries

Level 2: Conversational (Chit-Chat)

A balanced amount of chit-chat. Each person somewhat equally is sharing both talking and listening time. Opinions, advice, and encouragement are most likely being exchanged, but in the absence of any agreements about what one or the other is needing from or seeking in the dialog. There is probably some competition for “air time” meaning whose stories are getting play time. A 50/50 split is likely.

Effect: Good venting, perhaps some competition to speak, Surface, Nice way to take up time/space

Level 3: Empathizing (Experiencing the Other)

One person is listening from the “shoes” the other person is in and speaking from. Ever heard of Moccasins in communication training? It's about walking in the other's shoes. You listen not just to words and facts but engage your senses to feel the other person and experience what they are experiencing to meet them and hold a space for them. The connection at Level 3 enters the emotional realm whereas Levels 1 and 2 are topical, a banter, and about words and facts rather than being in the feeling space. Usually one person is listening/empathizing and the other person is being held/facilitated at Level 3.

Effect: Engaged, Acknowledged, Held, Experiencing, Understood

Level 4: Emergent (Experiencing the Other and Risking to See What Can Be)

A blending of conversational and empathizing in high def (HD). Each person is practicing the empathizing/empathizer role, walking in the others’ shoes and feeling/sensing the other. Simultaneously, each person is in the conversation drawing on what is being said and opening up to future possibilities based on the dialog – emergent self and emergent future possibilities. At this level of listening, we connect the present moment, what we are hearing, what we are sensing to questions about what can become. We tap into insights, delving deeper and co-creating through dialog. We see beyond present problems, situations, and possibilities and begin on journeys toward future possibilities, innovations, and positive change - in connection with and in relationship to others.

Effect: Daring, Exciting, Moving, Refreshing, Expansive, Brave, Scary

*Adapted from The Design Gym materials

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