Becoming a better manager and leader with third level listening | Macro

Becoming a better manager and leader with third level listening


By Mark Graham, Director of Corporate Services, Macro International

To “hear” and to “listen” are two different things.  Just because you can hear me, doesn’t mean that you are listening. The concept “third level listening” means emotional listening, i.e. to listen to what is said between the lines. This is a skill that is practiced by coaches globally and, I would argue, that mastering this will help you become a better manager and leader. 

According to the English language dictionary (Oxford University Press), the definition of “hear” is to perceive with the ear the sound made by (someone or something) while “listen” is defined as give one’s attention to a sound. What you may interpret as a subtle difference between “perceive” and “attention” is a massive gulf in understanding. Simplified, this can be explained as hearing with our ears but listening with all our senses. 

The benefits

Third level listening will benefit all your relationships and connections by adding colour and depth to your otherwise one or two dimensional communication. For example: 

  • When speaking with clients or colleagues, you can observe facial expressions, body language, stress levels, pauses in breathing, emotion and energy.
  • Even if you’re on a conference call, you can detect subtle changes in tone of voice, sarcasm, wit, humour, emotion and sense of urgency. 

This means you are listening to everything else that is happening in and around your conversation. In the book “Co-Active Coaching New Skills For Coaching People Toward Success In Work And Life” the authors summarise this as “we are aware.” 

Being aware means we can pick up on anything that isn’t articulated. Whitworth et al define the aspects of listening as “awareness” and also “impact”. The latter means the impact of our listening to others (i.e. what do we do with our listening). A coach will be cognisant of the impact they have when acting on awareness. 

How to achieve level three listening

First, it’s good to be aware of how your level one and two listening works: 

  • Level one (distracting) - According to the Co-Active® method, level one listening is referred to as “internal listening”. It’s that voice in your head that interrupts your conversations with others and wonders what you are going to have for dinner. That voice likes to judge and make conclusions, not only about yourself, but about others whom you are speaking with. It constantly brings the conversation back to your personal context.
  • Level two (now you’re paying attention) - Co-Active® labels level two listening as “focused listening”. This is all about paying attention to the other person. Have you ever been so engrossed in a conversation that you have lost track of what time it is or what is happening around you? Then you were practising focused listening. 

Then you get to level three, which is sometimes known as Global Listening (Co-Active®). This is where you want to be with everyone you interact with. In any given level three situation, you are using all of your available senses. Level two can be likened with using Ethernet, while level three is like WiFi (Whitworth, et al, 2007). 

Practise makes perfect

Most people need to really practice level three listening because they’re not used to heightening their awareness during conversations. Listening in this way also allows you to develop trust in your intuition. I firmly believe that your ability to truly connect with your client base is intrinsically linked to your ability to listen.

Follow Mark Graham on Twitter  Follow Macro on Twitter