Epictetus said “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Another way of looking at it would be that we have been given two ears because listening is a harder skill than talking?
Regardless, the one forum which had little to no sign of effective listening skills was the Second Presidential Debate. Granted- it’s a debate so candidates are expected to talk. But the format of this second debate called not only for talking but for effective listening.
It involved people asking specific questions of the two candidates. Candidates were expected to listen intently to the questions being asked and then answer accordingly.
So I thought to myself - since so many of us watched the debate- why not use it as an example to highlight the 4 levels of listening and how listening plays a key role in leadership.
Please note that I’m not supporting either candidate, nor am I fact checking the content of what was said. My attempt is to educate you on a concept (listening) through real life examples from the debate.
So there are 4 levels of listening(level 0 to level 3). The lowest levels don’t aid in communication and are mostly self- fulfilling prophecies. At the highest levels of listening the listener is able to build great rapport.
My attempt is to help you become more aware of what level you are listening at so that you can move yourself to the highest level of listening in a more conscious and deliberate fashion.
Remember, we are all human and continue to listen using one or more of the following levels.
Level 0: Irrelative Listening
In this level of listening the listener is not even focused on the speaker. It is as though the speaker does not exist.This is the least effective kind of listening as it doesn’t aid in communication. In fact, it causes more of a communication breakdown.
Here is an example of irrelative listening from the debate:
Brock: The last presidential debate could have been rated as MA, mature audiences per TV parental guidelines. Knowing that educators assign viewing the presidential debates as students’ homework, do you feel you are modelling appropriate and positive behavior for today’s youth?
Trump:"...I began this campaign because I was so tired of seeing such foolish things happen to our country. This is a great country...I cannot believe I'm saying that about myself, but I guess I have been a politician. And my whole concept was to make America great again....Last year we had an almost $800 billion trade deficit…..Just today, policeman was shot….including fixing and making our inner cities better for the African-American citizens that are so great and for the Latinos, hispanics, and I looking forward to doing- It’s called make America great again."
Cooper: "Thank you Mr. Trump. The question from Patrice was about ‘Are you both modeling positive and appropriate behaviors for today's youth?"
Notice how the answer had nothing to do with the question being asked?
Level 1: Subjective Listening
This level of listening is when the listener sees everything through their life and experiences. In other words, the listener is only thinking about his/ her own agenda. This sort of listening gives little to no satisfaction to whoever else is part of the conversation because the listener really doesn’t care about the other person.
Ever experienced a time when you were going through a rough patch and shared it with your friend only to have them go off about how their life is worse than yours? Remember how that left you feeling? That’s how people feel when their leaders are subjective listeners( yikes!).
Now here is an example of subjective listening from the debate.
Moss: Good evening. My question is what specific tax provisions will you change to ensure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share in taxes?
Trump: One thing I’d do is get rid of carried interest. The - one of the greatest provisions for people like me, to be honest with you, I give up a lot when I run because I knockout the tax code.
Notice how Trump immediately talks about his personal experience and his woes instead addressing the pain point? Now, that’s a classic level 1.
Level 2: Objective Listening
At this level, the tables get turned. The listener sees everything through the other party’s eyes. The focus is completely on the other person and has nothing to do with the listener’s personal life experiences. This kind of listening has great advantages because the the other person feels like they are being heard.
Listening at this level dramatically improves communication. The only disadvantage at this level is that it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter.
Think of a time when someone understood what you are saying (from the head) but didn’t empathize/ understand the undercurrents (from the heart)? That’s what I’m talking about.
Now, here’s an example of level 2: Objective listening from the debate.
Miller: Good evening. Perhaps the most important aspect of this election is the Supreme Court justice. What would you prioritize size as the most important aspect of selecting a Supreme Court justice?
Clinton: Thank you. You are right. This is one of the most important issues in this election. I want to appoint Supreme Court justices who understand the way the world really works, who have real life experience. Who have not just been in a big law firm and maybe clerked for a judge and then gotten on the bench, but maybe they tried more cases.
Notice how this answer makes Miller feel heard?
Level 3: Intuitive Listening
At this level, the listener is hearing all the sensory components and words of the person talking. Not only is the listener hearing what’s being said but is reading between the lines, reading what’s not being said through body language, attitude, tone, stance and reading the situation as a whole. This is an extremely powerful form of listening. Great leaders use it to build rapport, get buy in and keep employees highly engaged.
Think of a time when you have had a rough day and you shared that with a friend and they responded with “I can see how that can be frustrating and exhausting for someone as driven as you. Maybe you could take some time off to recharge? Get some air? For once, make yourself a priority?”.
When people listen intuitively you feel like they just get you!
I watched the second presidential debate but the important leadership skill of INTUITIVE LISTENING was MIA.
I feel that listening is the most underrated leadership skill and when understood and leveraged well can be the foundation of high performing teams and a highly engaged workforce.