Three Levels of Listening: Café Conversation, Part 2

[This post is the second in a summer series of three posts on Three Levels of Listening.  Stay tuned for the last post in this series, and download the tipsheet Three Levels of Listening in the meantime!]

Imagine this:

You have just attended a learning event, one you did not design, and you found it absolutely engaging and enjoyable. You met up with two colleagues, who you also consider friends, after the event and before you have even ordered coffee you share the words that are coming to mind that describe your experience at the event. It was like a “beautiful orchestra”, it was “musical”, “freedom” and “love”. Your friends describe their experience as well using words like “lively”, “friendly”, “intense”, and “peaceful.” What a great event!

You are now sipping your black coffee and reliving the enjoyment of the event with your friends when you notice a shift in the emotional field (the dynamic of the conversation) and sit up and look more closely at your friends. You realize that one of your friends has stopped talking and is looking down rather dejectedly. You’re surprised because this friend was so animated only moments before. You pause mid-sentence, take a breath, and ask your friend if everything is okay. Your friend sits quietly for a moment and then speaks in a low voice that he just got a text message that his brother was taken to the hospital with chest pains. You lean in to better hear your friend as he describes how important his brother is to him and how they had been making plans to go on an extended bike trip over the summer.

As your friend continued to speak about the trip and his summer plans, it was like the world around you disappeared and all you saw was your friend and what he was experiencing. The clatter of coffee mugs faded into the distance and the din of voices around you disappeared. It was just you and your friend.

The moment shifted almost as soon as it had begun as your friend decided to leave and head straight to the hospital. You say your goodbyes, offer your prayers and suddenly just two of you are left at the table.  

Level Two – Listening to Others

To review Part I of this blog series: there are many aspects to listening, and I’d like to draw your attention again to three distinct levels. Level One is where you listen to what is happening inside of you. Level Two is where you listen to another person with focus and attention. Level Three is when you listen to the broader emotional field, or dynamic, around you. We all take in information on these three levels, but we are not always paying attention to all three levels. The story above is an example of Level Two Listening when the two friends connected in a focused way and the world around them seemingly disappeared.   

Imagine that you can turn a knob to fine-tune your listening to pick up on the emotional field or dynamics happening within another individual.  

  • Think of a time in the recent past when you were very aware of, focused on, and in sync with another individual. What was that experience like? What happened to time…did it speed up? Slow down? 
  • Now think of a time when you were very out of sync with someone you really care about. What was that like?  


  • What benefit is there to being aware of and listening with focus and intent to another individual?
  • In a learning event, how might you use Level Two Listening to enhance your learning experience? 
  • What colleagues do you naturally seem to be able to listen to at Level Two? What colleagues is it hard to get in sync with?
  • How comfortable are you with Level Two Listening? Why may this be so? 
  • As a leader, how might you use Level Two Listening to lead more effectively? What can you do to be more present (not distracted) and connected to the people you are talking with?


Let’s practice this week! What if you were to pick two people this week that you were going to practice listening to more intently? You know that you tend to rush ahead with your thoughts whenever you talk with these people. What would it be like to be fully present and listening without giving in to distracting thoughts?

Are you willing to take on the challenge? If so, please post your learning in the comments section below and let’s learn together what Level Two Listening has to offer us this week!  

Stay tuned for another post soon on Level One Listening.


Wendy Balman is an ICF professional certified coach, a consultant and a coach trainer practicing in Chicagoland, IL, USA. Her passion is to provoke people to deeper learning and to grow their capacity to creatively address life’s challenges and opportunities with joy.