Levels of Listening in Leadership, Management & Coaching (video)


“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” – Epictetus

The need for listening is well know, yet the different levels of listening may be lost on most of us. So, how do we best practice listening as leaders, managers or coaches?

Jan Bowen-Nielsen helps our understanding of the different levels of listening in this video. More specifically, he introduces us to six levels of listening.

Listening, as he points out, is an underused skill and something we need to work on as managers, leaders, and coaches.

“Most people pick up very little during the conversations they are having”

– Jan Bowen-Nielsen

There are 6 levels of listening, Bowen-Nielsen explains. The levels of listening are as follows:

Levels of Listening #1: IGNORING

At this level of listening, you ignore other voices to concentrate fully on the task in front of you.

The open office environment is a perfect example of a situation where you need to ignore or block out all voices around you. In this sense, the ability to ‘ignore’ is a useful skill to have.

Levels of Listening #2: PRETENDING

This is probably the least nice level of listening, Bowen-Nielsen expresses. At this level, we pretend to listen while making small sounds and gestures to indicate that we are listening, when in fact we are not.

The receiving end, however, is likely to notice we are not listening, says Bowen-Nielsen, as our eyes tell a story of drifting off.

Levels of Listening #3: SELECTIVE

At this level of listening, you typically have an agenda and you are not listening to understand as such.

A salesperson may listen to pick up on needs or problems that a given product can solve.

At this level of listening, you risk missing out on important information that could give you a thorough understanding of the person speaking.




Levels of Listening #4 ATTENTIVE

At the attentive level of listening, you are a hundred percent attentive to the words being said, Bowen-Nielsen explains.

Yet, what you are missing out on are things being said between the lines. These things you catch at the following level of empathetic listening:

Levels of Listening #5: EMPATHY

At this level, you are extremely focused on understanding what the other person is saying.

Therefore, you are continuously searching for ways to improve your level of understanding. You can do this, for instance, by matching the speaker’s words with body language, metaphors, descriptions, and mental pictures drawn for you – all to understand better what is being conveyed.

“Listen with the intent to understand, not to reply”

– Stephen Covey

Your aim is to understand and emphasize with the person talking.

Levels of Listening #6 CONSTRUCTIVE

Constructive listening is often used in the manager or coaching situation where it’s not enough to listen. You take control of the conversation to ensure it is effective and purposeful, Bowen-Nilsen explains.

With constructive listening, you can move the person in front of you to a deeper state of self-awareness.

The art of this kind of listening, says Bowen-Nielsen, is managing and steering the conversation while letting the other person continue the talking. This way a higher awareness and a deeper understanding are facilitated with a minimum of interruption.

“There is only one rule for being a good talker – learn to listen” Christopher Morley


We, at ManageMagazine, would like to express our gratitude for this video to Jan Bowen-Nielsen and his team. We are pleased to get this opportunity to share it with our readers.

Jan Bowen-Nielsen is the Director and Founder of Quiver Management Ltd.

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