Three Levels of Listening: Café Conversation, Part 3

[This post is the last in a summer series of three posts on Three Levels of Listening. Want to learn more?  We invite you to read the first and second post, and download the tipsheet Three Levels of Listening.]

Imagine this:

You are sitting in a café with two colleagues that you consider friends and have just had an impactful conversation with one of these friends who was just notified by text that his brother was taken to the hospital for chest pains. After listening for a few minutes as your friend speaks about how important his brother was to him, he leaves with you and the remaining friend sitting in awkward silence at the café table.

As you sit in silence, you realize several things at once. One, you had completely ignored this friend during the previous conversation. Two, you actually don’t know this friend as well as the other one who just left the table. And three, you would like to call it a day and go home. So with this in mind, you completely ignore your inner urgings to either address the awkwardness or leave the café and instead launch into how nice the weather is this week and ask if your friend has any plans for the following weekend. As your remaining friend launches into a detailed account of how her dog is pregnant and about to deliver puppies your mind wanders. You hear words like “multiple colors” and “quiet corner” and are immediately reminded that you need to get flowers for the living room for when your parents visit on Friday. You then try to concentrate on what your friend is saying but as soon as you hear “trial run” and “low cost” you are reminded that you need to get vitamins because your iron is low…and that reminds you that your knees have been hurting from all the extra running you’ve been doing recently. And then you realize that your knees are hurting right now – better get those vitamins as soon as possible. And as you start writing down your growing shopping list you completely phase out your friend’s words and are now planning your own weekend activities. Meanwhile your friend is oblivious to your obvious lack of focus and attention.

After adding a few more items to your shopping list, you realize that your friend is winding down and that you both will be ready to head out the door soon. Yay! Can’t wait to get my shopping done.

Level One – Listening to Self

To review Part I of this blog series: there are many aspects to listening, and we are looking at listening from the viewpoint of 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 One Listening. The two friends were more aware of their own thoughts than of what was happening with the other person.    

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

  • Think of a time in the recent past when you were very aware of, focused on, and in sync with your own thoughts, feelings and physical and spiritual self. What was that experience like?   
  • Now think of a time when you were very out of sync with your own wants, desires and needs. What was that like? 


  • What benefit is there to being aware of and listening with focus and intent to yourself?
  • In a learning event, how might you use Level One Listening to enhance your learning experience? 
  • What do you do when you are distracted by thoughts in the middle of a conversation? Is it effective? Does it promote active listening or detract from it?
  • How comfortable are you with Level One Listening? 
  • As a leader, how might you use Level One Listening to lead more effectively? What kind of information will you glean from listening to your spirit, soul and body as a leader?


Let’s practice! Over the next week, twice a day spend about 7 minutes writing out (longhand) exactly what you are thinking, feeling and experiencing physically at that moment. What do you notice? What have you been thinking or experiencing for a long time but have not paid attention to it? What new awareness is showing up? What do you want to do about it?

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 One Listening has to offer us this week!  


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.