Exactly which level of listening do you employ with those you lead?

Okay, I have to admit I love the squirrel reference and it fits so beautifully when we speak of listening. Distractions, interruptions, and shiny objects are contagious, too and if you are easily distracted or multi-tasking, or just don’t have a long attention span, it’s likely that those employees you have the privilege of leading, are talking, but you’re not really listening.

In fact, there are four levels of listening and we carry out all of them, but I bet you can identify which one is most effective. Keep in mind, listening is a part of communication and how we communicate is not only contagious all by itself, but also affects our Contagious Leadership™ efforts.

Here are the four levels of listening. Which one have you participated in today?


This occurs when we are looking at the person or at the phone, but are really not hearing a word the person is saying. Think of the noise used on TV to simulate the teacher’s voice on any Charlie Brown cartoon. Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa. Yep, that’s it. If that’s what you’re hearing while checking emails, making a list AND listing to a conference call simultaneously, then guess what? You’re likely NON- listening.

Selective or Marginal Listening

This level occurs when we pay attention to what is being said at first and then are easily distracted. Much like those with a short attention span might do. They listen and then all of a sudden… squirrel… and they’ve left the conversation. Sometimes you can tell. Sometimes you can’t, but if you find yourself daydreaming in a conversation and checking back in only to hear “Does that make sense?”, you might have just been caught selectively listening. Think of it this way, too. Imagine a teenager. If you say to this teenager, in your house watching TV, “Please do your homework.” or “Please empty the dishwasher.” Chances are they will selectively choose not to listen, but if you say food or money, you’ll have their attention. How can you get others to select to listen to you?

Evaluative Listening

This occurs when someone is already excited about what you have to say. So much so, that they already have data they wish to share, an alternate opinion they wish to refute or an argument to be made as soon as you stop talking. But, because of their interest, they have surpassed selective listening. You have their attention, but they are evaluating your every word and then crafting a response or rebuttal WHILE you are still talking. In this case, they might miss the message and only again hear “Does that make sense?” while they are still crafting the response in their head. Whose comments or conversation do you dismiss mid-sentence to evaluate how you will respond?

Active Listening

It’s no secret that this is the most effective level of listening, but how to do it and doing is consistently is a bit more elusive. With all the bells, whistles, buzzing things, and constant distractions from “gotta sec” to “you’ve got mail” in our world, it can be hard to actively listen. But, if you can focus all of your attention on one person and one conversation, it will pay big dividends, keep you from asking silly questions, and help you get the information you need the first time… as well… and perhaps most importantly, allow the person to whom you are listening to feel utterly, completely and fully heard… and perhaps even understood. Have you passively or absolutely actively listened to those you lead lately?

Stay contagious!

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