A number of writers talk about different levels of listening with differing numbers of levels defined and variously described. Here I have described 3 levels of listening which are useful to consider in the context of coaching.
Level 1 or ‘Internal listening’ Here as the listener your focus in on yourself and your own thoughts rather than the speaker. As the speaker is talking you interpret what you hear in terms of what it means to you. This is normal everyday conversation where it is natural as the listener to gather information to help you form opinions and make decisions.
Generally, as a good coach you will not be listening at this level, after all a coaching session isn’t about you, it is about your client and their needs. However, there are times when it may be appropriate for example when you want to establish from your client a convenient time for their next coaching session. In this instance you need to take into account your own availability and make a judgement in order to agree a mutually convenient time.
Level 2 or ‘Listening to understand’ As a listener operating at level 2 you are focusing totally on the speaker, listening to their words, tone of voice and body language and are not distracted by your own thoughts and feelings. As a good coach you will be using this level of listening in your coaching sessions where the purpose of gathering information is solely for the benefit of your client rather than you. By listening at level 2 you can get a real understanding of where the coachee is ‘coming from’, the client will feel understood and the coach’s own thoughts will not influence the coaching session.
Level 3 or ‘Global Listening’ This involves the listener focusing on the speaker and picking up more than what is being said. When coaching, you will be listening to everything available using intuition, picking up emotion and sensing signals from your coachee’s body language. You can gauge the energy of your coachee and their emotions as well as picking up what they are not saying. You will understand what they are thinking and feeling, and trusting your own senses can be extremely responsive to the needs of your coachee, knowing what question to ask next.