Toward better communication: The Three Levels of Listening

Toward better communication: The Three Levels of Listening

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This latest article in our communication series explores the three levels of listening: how to perceive them and how to incorporate them in order to become a better listener and a better communicator.

Photo by George Farmer. (Image via Flickr, CC 2.0 license)

WASHINGTON, October 24, 2015 – To sum up my previous article in this communication series, I provided the following key tips on how you can become a better listener. You can accomplish this by

  1. Paraphrasing or restating a statement for clarification;
  2. Focusing and being clear;
  3. Minimizing multi-tasking since our brains are not hard-wired to do so; and
  4. Being present, mindful and giving your full attention to the speaker. We want to listen for meaning and not just hear words. We need to be engaged!

Read also: The art of communication: Hearing is not listening

As researchers have reported in numerous studies of the brain, we humans find we have to keep pulling ourselves back to the present. Our brain is easily distracted and silently but almost constantly recalls the past and envisions the future.

At what level of listening have these two ladies arrived? (Public domain, via Wikipedia)
At what level of listening have these two ladies arrived? (Public domain, via Wikipedia)

Have you ever been in a meeting or been listening to a friend when you suddenly realize that you have “zoned-out” for a brief time? Do not be critical of yourself for doing this. But as soon as you are aware of you’re your brain is doing, bring yourself back to the present. Practicing mindfulness like this and routinely devoting some time to daily meditation can give us the quiet time to calm the internal chatter we so frequently encounter.

How frustrated do you feel when the person you are speaking with is distracted? Have you ever had a conversation where the person you were speaking to was texting or doing something else unrelated? What kind of impact does that have on your relationship? Good listening and communication builds trust. Does your self-talk (your internal chatter) get in the way of your conversations with others?

The first way we process our listening is to hear the information that’s being delivered. Then we select what information we choose to focus on. At this point, we endow the information with meaning and determine how we feel about it. Next we decide how to respond; and then, we respond. It may seem complicated, but this happens all in a matter of seconds. We’re all essentially on automatic pilot for this process.

You can see how listening very much requires your personal focus and attention as well as bringing your mental energy to bear. We can better understand how deeply engaged we are when we listen when we actually understand the three levels of listening and their function.

We have all experienced each of these levels, which are described in detail below. As you read about each level ask yourself, where do I typically fall in the course of a day? What is the impact this is having on the listener and myself? What level do I want to spend most of my time in?

Level I Listening

At this point, our listening is at the surface level. Once you have the self-awareness to recognize your self-talk, you will see the major role it plays when we listen at this level. Frequently, our self-talk actually distracts us and causes us to miss a part of the current conversation because our self-talk invariably has a louder voice than the actual conversation at hand. We then spend more time and energy trying to catch up to and clarify what has been said.

Level II Listening

At this level of listening, you have become more invested in the conversation but you are still not fully present. You are listening simply in order to respond. You are thinking of an answer before the speaker finishes his or her sentence. Therefore, you focus more on how you are going to respond than on what the speaker is actually saying. Level II listening is where multi-tasking takes place.

Level III Listening

This is where presence takes over. At this point, both our verbal and non-verbal skills are employed. We are listening for meaning in the conversation through what is being said or not being said as well as through non-verbals and body language such as eye contact or face-to-face body positions.

Level III Listening is where we leave our judgments, opinions, assumptions, biases and resistance outside and focus on what is being said from a place of deep curiosity. We and the individual with whom we are speaking feel heard and acknowledged, a key need of all human beings.


If you were rating yourself on a 1-10 scale, scoring 10 for being the most effective possible listener, how would you rate yourself today? If you want to improve your listening, practice self-awareness and become more conscious and aware of the three levels of listening we’ve just discussed. Fight that urge to multi-task…Quiet your self-talk…Practice mindfulness.

If you aren’t sure how to get started, give me a holler! You, too, can learn a more stress-free approach to life!


For more Information Contact:

Susan Commander Samakow, PCC, CPCC

Certified Business, Life & Leadership Coach Focusing on Confidence & Resilience Strategies, Life & Career Transition, & Business & Leadership

Certified Mediator

Twitter: @SelfTalkCoach

301-706-7226 & 703-574-0039!/susan.samakow

Ask Susan about the Stress Reducing techniques she teaches: EFT (Tapping) and Breathing Exercises.


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