The Four Levels Of Listening

As coaches, listening is at the core of everything we do. Mastering the (sometimes lost) art of listening is critical to building environments of trust and safety for our clients and any relationship we have around us.

Without the ability to listen actively, all other skills are useless. Therefore, we often start with this competence. Even though we listen all day long, it is an art to listen actively and to listen with the ears of a coach is a special skill in itself. 

ICF definition of Active Listening

Active Listening – Ability to focus completely on what the client is saying and is not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the client’s desires, and to support client self-expression. 

  • Attends to the client and the client’s agenda, and not to the coach’s agenda for the client, 
  • Hears the client’s concerns, goals, values and beliefs about what is and is not possible, 
  • Distinguishes between the words, the tone of voice, and the body language, 
  • Summarizes, paraphrases, reiterates, mirrors back what client has said to ensure clarity and understanding, 
  • Encourages, accepts, explores and reinforces the client’s expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs, suggestions, etc., 
  • Integrates and builds on client’s ideas and suggestions, 
  • “Bottom-lines” or understands the essence of the client’s communication and helps the client get there rather than engaging in long descriptive stories, 
  • Allows the client to vent or “clear” the situation without judgment or attachment in order to move on to next steps. 

Active listening based on four levels 

There is a difference between listening and hearing. Hearing is the physical concept of the mind and is passive. Listening is intentional and active listening is intentional and made with active participation. In professional coaching, four levels of active listening are usually presented. 

1. Inner listening. The first level is called an inner listening. Here we listen to someone else but always have an internal reference point. We tell our own story and are busy with ourselves. We also value what is said based on our own experiences and values. We easily fall out of listening and can ignore what is said if it does not fit into our image. Here, therefore, we risk hearing what we want to hear. 

There is a social code in the listener that means that we both listen and tell. Often we consider ourselves more interesting than the other person. However, the advantage of internal listening is that the coach can use his or hers coach skills and possibly other necessary experiences that promote the client’s process. 

2. Focused listening. The second level of listening is when we listen intensively and the listener is more interested in the other person than in him- or herself. We can get caught up by the client’s story, confirm the client and take everything that is said seriously. We are curious and start asking questions based on what the client says. We want to know how the client thinks, what obstacles and opportunities the client sees and what the client is about to do, learn or decide. The client is heard, acknowledged and given the opportunity to reflect. Here we talk about an intellectual empathy – thought tension. The coach wants to understand both the client’s thoughts and feelings. 

3. Global listening. On level three we listen to what is said beyond what is said. In this way the listening rises to another level. We listen to more than words, with the radar on. Intuition is turned on – what you feel and sense – and we read the body language and things that are not said. We listen to the tone, choice of words and voice. We confirm and consciously raise our client by asking questions that take the client further. We honor our client and the client’s insights and progress. Here we are talking about an emotional empathy, a sense of emotion. We want to understand the client’s feelings, dreams, driving forces and visions. We are living in the unspoken. We are value-free 

4. Great-listening – universal listening. The fourth level is when we listen consciously to the client’s greatness and purpose. If I do not listen, I cannot hear it either. I listen with “coach ears” and reflect on questions such as: “What potential is there? What opportunities are there around the corner? What higher will and what higher qualities are there that want to emerge and develop and grow? What is my client’s greatness? What resources do I hear that my client has? “Here we can also listen on a Meta level, for example, visions and dreams that benefit humanity, the world and the universal will. Listening to the client’s mission with his or her own life is also an example of a universal listening.