The 4 Levels of Listening: Pastor, are you Stuck at the Pre-school Level?

One of the greatest skills a pastor or leader can develop is to learn to listen well. Woodrow Wilson’s words below should cause every leader to evaluate his or her listening skills.

The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.

We pay others a high compliment when we listen.

We affirm other’s God-given value when we listen.

We develop our own heart when we listen.

The father of the field of listening, Ralph Nichols, captures the essence of listening in these words.

The most basic of all human needs is the need to be understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.

Through my 15-week coaching I’ve learned that we listen at several levels. Often we get stuck on the first level, the most elementary one. As you read the four levels below, ask yourself at which level do you usually listen.

  1. Level 1-Listening TO…Internal Listening. At this level when we listen to others we mostly listen to our inner dialogue, our thoughts, our feelings, and what we plan to say once the other person has finished speaking. We focus on ourselves, our conclusions, our thoughts about the person/subject of conversation, and what the subject means to me. Unfortunately most listening happens at this level where it’s all about me.
  2. Level 2-Listening FOR…Focused Listening. At this level we begin to authentically listen as we focus on what the other person is saying. We lock onto their dialogue and suppress our temptation to correct, give our opinion, give advice, or offer another perspective as soon as they finish. We become truly present and give them the gift of being understood.
  3. Level 3-Listening WITH… Intuitive Listening. At this level we pay attention to what is not being said through these cues:  inflection, pauses, changes in tone and energy, the eyes, and body language. We listen with our gut and allow intuition to speak to our soul.
  4. Level 4-Listening to the Holy Spirit. This is the deepest level where we intersect what the person is saying/not saying with an openness to what the Spirit of God is saying to us. This level requires great discipline and focus, yet provides pastors and ministry leaders a way to become conduits of God’s grace to people.

So, at which level do you often listen? What tips have you discovered that help you listen at levels 2-4?


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