Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

September 2003
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Levels of Listening

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

There are three levels of listening; each is characterized by certain behaviors that affect listening effectiveness. Level 1 has the highest potential for understanding, retention and effective communication; level 3 has the lowest.

These are general categories to help us understand our listening; they overlap and interchange depending on the situation. All of us listen at different levels of effectiveness throughout the day, as the circumstances and people around us change. For example, it is difficult for most people to listen effectively in the midst of a highly conflicted situation, when they are dealing with emotional people, when they are being criticized, when they are being corrected, or when they are feeling fearful, anxious, or angry. Others listen very effectively when they are working or ministering, only to tune out when they arrive home.

These are the three levels of listening:

Level 1. Active Listening. The Active Listener gives full attention to listening when another is talking and focuses on what is being said. He views communication from others as an opportunity to gather new and useful information, and so does not allow himself to be distracted, but is fully engaged and alert. He pays attention to the speaker’s total communication, including non-verbal, and he exercises much direct eye contact. His attention is evident in his posture or stance.The active listener knows that specific words mean different things to different people and he does his best to understand the intended meaning of the speaker.

At this level, the listener places himself in the other’s position, attempting to see things from his point of view. He is aware of his personal biases and attitudes, and suspends his own thoughts and feelings to give his attention solely to listening. He genuinely believes the speaker has something valuable to say, and attempts to listen from his heart with respect, understanding and empathy.

The active listener becomes directly involved in the communication process and will often restate or paraphrase the message back for the speaker to hear. In doing so, he gives feedback to speaker concerning the clarity and accuracy of his message; he also develops a deeper appreciation of what the other person is thinking and feeling. Thus, active listening encourages a true dialogue between the two parties in which both accuracy and mutual validation are achieved.

The active listener not only listens to the speaker but he also listens to the inner voice of the Holy Spirit, giving him insight into the speaker’s words and heart, and direction concerning how to respond.

The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. (Is. 50:4; cf. Is. 30:21)

Level 2. Passive Listening. The Passive Listener hears words but does not really listen. Such a listener stays at the surface of the communication and does not understand the deeper significance of what is being said. He does hear the words but he does not make much attempt to understand or to empathize with the speaker’s intention. The Passive Listener tends to listen logically and is more concerned for content than for feeling; he remains emotionally detached from the conversation. He receives information as though being talked to rather than as being an equal partner in the communication process. He assumes that the responsibility for the success of the communication is the speaker’s.Such listening can lead to dangerous misunderstandings because there is insufficient communication. At level 3, it is obvious that the person is not listening; however, at level 2, the speaker may have a false sense of being listened to and understood.
Level 3. Non-Listening. The Non-Listener tunes in and tunes out. He is somewhat aware of others, but mainly pays attention to himself and his own thoughts. He follows the discussion only enough to get a chance to talk. His listening is quiet, passive and unresponsive. Such a listener will often fake attention, while thinking about unrelated matters, forming rebuttals, or preparing what he wants to say next. His aloofness may be displayed in his blank stare or his detached posture.

Very few people spend most of their time listening at level 1. Most of us listen at all three levels over the course of a day, but the more we listen at level 1, the more effective we will be as leaders.

To check your listening effectiveness please use our Listening Effectiveness Inventory.

Comments 5
  • mike
    Posted on

    mike mike

    Reply Author

    Very useful. Thank you!

  • Esther Goh
    Posted on

    Esther Goh Esther Goh

    Reply Author

    Dear Sir
    I find your leadership letter 5 – listening very useful. I am a professor in a university teaching social work students in Singapore. This letter may be useful for my students. Thank you.

  • ayesha
    Posted on

    ayesha ayesha

    Reply Author

    I like this letter a lot, especially the levels of listening and the different dominant characters.

  • Parminder Singh Khalsa Moga
    Posted on

    Parminder Singh Khalsa Moga Parminder Singh Khalsa Moga

    Reply Author

    Dear Sir,
    me Student of PCTE Ludhiana,,,,, i find some listening levels in your site… thses are in simple and easy language……………..

    really thanx a lot!

  • jezrel
    Posted on

    jezrel jezrel

    Reply Author

    This has helped me much..Thank you!!!