4 Levels Of Listening – Part 2

In part 1 of this blog, I explained that there are 4 levels of listening and that listening is a lost art in our fast-paced, whats-in-it-for-me world. We talked about the first 2 levels of listening.  In this blog post, we’ll explore Levels 3 and 4 of effective listening.

Level 1 listening is when all your focus is on yourself when you’re listening to another.  And Level 2 listening is when all your focus is on the other person when you’re listening.  Usually level 2 is a better form of listening however there is a time and place for level 1 listening now and again.

Level 3 listening is when it’s all about the space in-between.  We call it the system or the relationship between the two or more people. And we see that system as a third entity that has a voice and needs and wants.  So listening at level 3 is listening to what’s in the system?  What is the relationship saying? What does it want, or need?  When we tune in at this level of listening, we tap into the wisdom of the system, which the members of the system are usually unaware of.  In some ways this is like extrapolating from the sum of what everyone in the system is saying.

Level 4 listening is when we tune in to everything that is going on and ask “What’s wanting to happen here?” It means taking a 10,000-foot view and using your intuition to feel into the insight in the situation and the next step.  We need to look holographically at what is taking place and anticipate what is wanted.  The leader that uses level 4 listening is the leader that’s one step ahead of everyone else.

Now that we’ve covered the 4 levels of listening, ask yourself which is your natural default?  And which listening level provides the greatest opportunity for improvement?  Your job now is to practice noticing yourself moving in and out of levels 1 and 2 while you’re in conversations, and play with stretching into levels 3 and 4.  Remember the objective is to master them all so that you have maximum range, or behaviour flexibility, and can use any or all listening levels as needed!

Having said all of this about learning to listen in a new way, it is possible to listen too much, as I recently found out.  When you listen too much, you miss your opportunity to be heard and to share.  Others don’t get the chance to get to know you when you listen all the time.  And you can eventually feel depleted and drained if your conversations are all lopsided, and you don’t get to enjoy being listened to as well.  It’s about striking a balance, and sometimes that means grabbing the reigns of the conversation (especially at networking events!) and interjecting so that you can speak and share for a while.

I encourage you to practice the 4 levels of listening and then play with the conversational dance between speaking and listening to create fulfilling and meaningful discussions.

I’d love your feedback! And don’t forget to leave a link back to your own blog too if you have one via the commentluv feature here on the site.

Until next time,





  1. Sue,

    I appreciate your thorough overview of the 4 levels of listening. One thing that would help me put it all into perspective is if you could provide examples of what levels work best for which situation. Or perhaps there is no right or wrong form of listening in a situation – it is just how you listen.

    Personally, with my line of work, I feel like most of my listening is a level 4 when with a client. My goal for myself this week is to see what kind of a listener I am to my peers and coworkers…and even family when I get home.

  2. Thanks Matt! Ideally in everyday conversation we would want to be cycling through all 4 levels of listening, as needed. Level 1 Listening is best when you are preparing to respond to someone in conversation and you want to draw on your own opinion, experience or knowledge in order to respond in a relevant way to what someone has said. Level 2 Listening is an excellent way of “serving” another whether that is in a professional context or not. In Level 2 you are 100% focused on what the other person is saying, with the intention of fully understanding them. This is important when you are being paid to support someone with an issue or problem that they have. Level 3 Listening is excellent for creating rapport and building relationship because you’re are drawing on the wisdom of the connection between you and bringing that into the dialogue in order to create deeper or richer connection. Level 4 listening is great any time but especially when visionary thinking and innovative ideas are needed. There is an element of anticipating what’s next, and using your intuition to read what’s being called for by the system (even if the system doesnt know it consciously). Level 4 Listening uncovers the elephant in the room of the immediate future. Hope that helps.

    What did you learn about your listening in peer contexts?

  3. One more thing Matt. Sometimes the best gift we can give to another is to witness and acknowledge them. It’s a beautiful experience to be truly heard by another person. Level 2 listening is perfect for this, sometimes with silence, and sometimes by paraphrasing what you heard so they know that you know, eg. What I heard you say is…

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