The ART of Listening

When I was a child my best friend was a gentleman named Marvin McNair, my Granddad. I loved spending time with him and Grandma on weekends, holidays and summer vacations. Granddad and I had fun no matter what we were doing. Our favorite thing to do was watch old black and white TV shows. He would let me stay up way past my bed time watching Perry Mason, the Twilight Zone, the Outer Limits or I Love Lucy. Granddad passed away many years ago but there is one thing above all that I remember about him and that was his ability to LISTEN.

Whenever I had a problem Granddad was the first person I sought for council. I’d say Granddad, “I need to talk to you”.  At that moment he would stop whatever he was doing and sit down in his reclining chair. He would get this blank look on his face, lean forward and say, “Okay, let’s hear it”. I would launch into a diatribe about all of the troubles that 10 year old boys contend with on a daily basis. He never interrupted, never moved, his facial expression stayed the same. I’d often stop and ask him “Granddad, are you still listening?

His answer “yes, of course”! I would say “but you didn’t say anything or react”. He said, “that’s because I was JUST listening”. He would then repeat back to me every word I had uttered without error. It was my first lesson in the ART of Listening. Listening is an understated but powerful skill that can transform personal and professional relationships. Hearing is predicated on the ability to detect Sound Waves. These waves travel through the outer ear, are modulated by the middle ear, and are transmitted to the vestibulocochlear nerve in the inner ear. This nerve transmits information to the temporal lobe of the brain, where it is registered as sound.

Listening is much more complex than hearing because it’s not dependent on being able to detect sound. People talk with their eyes, their hands, body position and facial expressions. The question is “DO YOU KNOW HOW TO LISTEN”? There are in fact three levels of listening.

Level 1: (IN MY OWN HEAD) the focus is on me. When you listen at level 1 you are listening with the intent to respond. You’re actually listening to the voices in your head. Have you ever heard those voices? They are thinking about what you should say next. We need Level 1 listening when we’re at a restaurant reviewing the menu or asking for directions. It’s about getting what we need and what we want to say. We’re busy formulating our thoughts and our next question. Level 1 listening doesn’t work when we’re trying to connect with someone and hear what they need.



Level 2: (I HEAR YOU) focuses on the other person. Level 2 is when you listen for what someone is saying beneath their words. You are truly listening and your focus is on them. You are listening for what someone is trying to say by being fully present. You listen with curiosity. You reflect. When you listen at Level 2, people will feel heard and that is a wonderful feeling.

Level 3: (GRANDDAD) focus energy. When you listen at Level 3 you’re getting a feel for what’s happening and using all your senses. Level 3 draws upon the energy of more than just the words. It uses body language, tone of voice, noticing what’s going on and just feeling the room. You can feel the energy in a team when you walk in a room. It’s that kind of awareness. In order to become a better listener, you need to be aware when you are listening and when you need these three levels.

Listening was my Granddad’s superpower; it is a standard that he left for me to strive for. I’m still trying to make him proud of me.


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