To listen effectively, you have to listen at multiple levels.

A good listener can demonstrate that they’ve logged the facts, understood the emotions and uncovered the associated values and beliefs. This kind of listening dramatically improves team effectiveness. Here’s some great ways of showing that you’re listening at all the levels.

Level 1: Checking the Facts

That’s interesting. Tell me more about that? Example: Your take on new customer acquisition is interesting. Tell me more about it.

I am hearing two different issues in what you’re saying. Am I hearing you correctly? Example: I’m hearing an issue about Bob being late and being rude to the admin staff. Am I hearing you right?

You used the word _____. What do you mean when you say that? Example: You used the word investment. What do you mean when you say investment in our high potentials?

Level 2: Understanding the Emotions

You used the word _____ several times in your presentation. I’m sensing that you feel very ____ about this issue. Example: You said critical several times. I’m sensing you feel a real sense of urgency about our expansion.

As you were talking, your voice got quieter and quieter. How are you feeling about this issue? Example: As you were talking about your concerns about the Marketing Department, your voice got quieter and quieter. How are you feeling about bringing this issue forward?

I’m really interested in what you didn’t say when you were just talking? What should I infer from that? Example: You didn’t mention excitement when talking about the promotion? How are you thinking about the opportunity?

Level 3: Uncovering Values and Beliefs

I heard you say _____ a couple of times. What this discussion is triggering for you? Example: When you were talking about our challenges with the Risk Management team, you used the term “putting on the brakes” a couple of times. What do you see as the role of Risk Management?

I am hearing several reasons why you think we shouldn’t proceed. What do you see as the risks of going this way? Example: I am hearing many reasons why you think we shouldn’t hire Sasha. What do you see as the risks of selecting her?

It feels like this is at odds with how you think things should work? What do you think is important to protect here? Example: It feels like talking about a more narrow strategy is really at odds with how you think about the purpose of the hospital. What do you think is important to protect here?

And if none of those is to your liking…

Help me understand… There’s no statement that says “I’m listening and what you’re saying is important to me”.

What do you say to show you’re really listening? How does listening (or not listening) affect your team effectiveness? Share your comments.

Further Reading

Liane’s Back to Basics Listening Drill

Tips to Improve the Connection when you Communicate

Communicate With, not To

32 Responses to Are you a good listener?

  1. Jenny Lee

    Dr. Davey,

    Thank you for these insightful tips as it’s totally relevant to both my professional and personal life. As well, it’s a very humbling reminder that I need to be a more intentional listener…not an easy gig but very doable.


  2. Laura Nickerson

    Agreed, Jenny. It’s easy to half-listen and let our minds wander to things on our to-do list, or plans for later, but clearly it’s just as easy to listen with intention. Great advice!

  3. Nancy

    Is it fair to say that with the pace of the work environment and all the ‘communication” devices we use to stay connected, we have failed to develop the discipline and take the time to listen? How much time do we actually spend using two-way communication? Do things like the ever dreaded email, conference calls, instant messaging and texting make it harder for us to truly hear each other. Let’s bring back the good ol’ facew-to-face conversation!

  4. Julie Jones

    Liane you describe the levels of listening here that can really make a difference not only in our individual relationships and the teams we work in but in the world. Listening at the level where one can discern another’s values through what is being said requires also listening for what is not being said. Its the spaces in between that make a difference – thanks for illuminating this.

    • Liane Davey

      Julie, listening in between the words is such an important skill to learn. When we do this listening framework (facts, feelings, values) as an exercise, the people who feel best heard are those for whom the listener has reflected back feelings and hypothesized about the underlying values. In fact, the speaker often says “I hadn’t thought about that, but I think you’re right!”

  5. Sonya Stevens

    I love these practical suggestions for really engaging with the person and gaining a better appreciation of the issue…without hijacking the conversation. I will definitely be using these to amp up my listening! Thank you!

  6. Ross Stockwell

    Good practical pointers. There is quite a bit of literature in the areas of mindfullness and the cultivation of the ability to be ‘present’ as it relates to learning, problem-solving (and of course) listening and relating. This idea and associated practices are becoming much more mainstream.

  7. Ren Wiebe

    I really like the concept of listening deeply and the importance of asking the open ended question for people to go deeper in describing what they “really mean”.

  8. Margo

    Sometimes you just can’t find the right words to move the conversation forward effectively – thanks for these examples. Now off I go to practice…

  9. Bryan

    Important lessons in a busy, busy world where sometimes ‘slowing’ down to listen doesn’t come naturally. There is nothing more frustrating than feeling like your leader or colleague isn’t listening or interested in what you have to say. We have all been there so should think long and hard about how many times we may be in fact be making others feel the very same way. Good tips!

  10. Stephanie Rudderham

    About a month ago, I learned that I was not quite the good listener that I thought I was. One of the bad habits that I discovered I possessed was that I am always thinking of “what I am going to say next” while the person that I am in discussion with is speaking to me. Although I was not guilty of committing one of the more serious listening offences such as not looking at the person or playing with a cell phone, I still felt that I needed to shape up and ditch the bad habit. Now that I’ve committed to practicing better listening, I defiantly see value in applying the techniques from this article to show that I am listening at all levels.

  11. Jason Fisher

    Listening is really an art, almost a lost art in this fast paced world. It is remarkable to be in a room and listen to someone spill their heart out about their frustrations with your business and have the person next to you, who is also suppose to be listening tell you “that went pretty good, their not as mad as I thought” and you look at them and think are you kidding? they are pissed, they just are not yelling at you and that is why you can’t see how upset they are. More often than not do I see people trying to formulate the answer when someone is talking, even cutting them off and telling them the answer to where they think the conversation is heading instead of listening. Silence is bliss, just because the person stopped talking doesn’t mean that you need to start talking yourself right away. Take a moment, think about what the person just said, absorb it, then speak.

  12. Maureen Schell

    I like the suggestions on how to get more information on the topic that is being discussed. I find I am often preparing my response while the person is talking because I want to make sure that I am phrasing the response properly. Having a few of these key questions in my “back pocket” will allow me to get more information before responding or jumping in with a solution. Maybe if I ask a few more questions, it will allow the both of us time to come to a more creative and effective conclusion.

  13. Joanne White

    I agree with several of the comments made, especially that listening is a lost art. At one of our group meetings recently we went over and practiced the skills in the blog, I found them very helpful and I am trying to practice them every day at work. it’s not easy stopping yourself from formulating the answer while they are talking but I am making a conscious effort to stop doing it.

    • Joanne, thanks so much for sharing your adventures with the listening blog. I’m sure that the effects will be even stronger because a group of you talked about it together. There’s nothing better than a little positive peer pressure to keep you honest about good quality listening. You’ll know it’s really working when there is a millisecond’s silence between each person speaking instead of the overlap that tells you everyone was just waiting for their chance to talk.

  14. Mike Royer

    Listening to what others are saying is difficult at the best of times, our minds are always trying to anticipate what the person is going to say next. We end up hearing only a portion of what was was said and finish the rest with our own words. I find I need to work on this and listen fully to get their complete meaning to fully understand what is intended.

  15. Don Paul

    We need to be extremely focused during conversations both in person and on the telephone, I find I get distracted, it take discipline to really listen, however the rewards can be plentiful and solve a lot of issues.

  16. Kim Miller

    Empathic listening skills are one of the most difficult things that I encounter on a daily basis. How many times has someone you are talking to interrupted you in the middle of a sentence? How many times a day do you interrupt someone you are having a conversation with? I find that I have to actively listen and participate in a conversation, ensuring that I understand the other person’s point of view clearly before offering my return comments. This is difficult to do and requires practice with every conversation I have. Liane nails the skills required for effective listening skills in her points above.

  17. steve campbell

    Listening is most definately a skill not had by all – i never realized how true this was until a recent exercise i was involved in. I have since put more effort in trying “hear” more of what someone is trying to say as opposed to just the words that they are saying. Although i still have along way to go before i phase out all my bad listening habits, like projecting what they are going to say or fomulating a response before they are finished, i beleve these skills will most definately allow for better professional and personal relationships.

    • Steve, thanks for your comments. I think this is one where we can all improve. I catch myself in the middle of someone else’s sentence and realise I’ve lost my focus on what he is saying. I’m less sheepish now about saying “I just caught myself phasing out, can you repeat that.” or even being honest about what’s going on for me “I feel badly, I’m so busy worrying about the tough meeting I just had with a client that I am not giving you the attention you deserve.” You don’t have to admit guilt very many times before you give yourself a shake and start listening better. I’m glad you’re working on it with me!

  18. Kris Veller

    WOW. reading the other peoples blogs make me feel like i am not the only one that has to focus and use the 3 levels of listeneing to get the most out of the conversation. The tips where and insite to what i can do to better listen to others

  19. Matt Klassen

    It is really easy to hear someone in a busy atmosphere but its very difficult to listen to someone. To show your listening, there are many tell signs, such as body language, response, reaction and input are a few examples.

  20. Russ

    Thank you for the tips. I find listening to be dificult in a busy enviroment. Ii is something that you have to focus on. I often find my mind wondering during a conversation. Starting to think about the many tasks that have to be completed, or starting to think of a response part way through the conversation.

  21. Cameron Filion

    Conversational interaction is such a vital part of our lives, and in turn our careers. As many have stated below we far too often pay more attention to ourselves than others when having conversations. By neglecting to truly listen the value and learning’s of these conversations is often diminished or even lost. The points above are a great tool to work on getting more out of the conversation by prompting the speaker and listening to more than just the words being said.

  22. John C

    I feel listening is one of the most important although sometimes difficult skills to possess. It is important in all facets of our lives. Sometimes just being silent and giving yourself time to process what is being said can make the biggest difference in your response. There is nothing better than walking away from a conversation feeling like your voice has been heard.

  23. John

    Alot of times when we listen we aren’t really listening to what the other person has to say as we have our own adgendas. Even if we have these adgendas we still need to try and understand what the person is trying to tell us. I believe this can only be done by taking away any distractions that might cause us not to be focused on the conversation.

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