The 4 Levels of Listening

By Dr. Evans Baiya

So much has changed because of COVID-19, including the needs of your current and potential customers. Now more than ever, companies should be listening to their customers. One of the keys to recovery is truly understanding what your customers need and adapting your offering(s) to their requirements. Your ability to listen will become key to your survival as you innovate through the pandemic economy.

Ron Price, co-author of The Innovator’s Advantage, recently taught a session on the power of listening and outlined the different ways we listen versus the way we talk. There are four levels of listening:

Level 1: Pretending to listen.
This is the lowest level of listening. Typically, the listener does not take action based on what they have heard. The customers may be talking to the innovator, but the innovator has already decided not to take action or is distracted to the point that nothing sticks. Customers sense disrespect if they feel their feedback is not even attended to. If you want to chase away your customers, be a Level-1 listener.

Level 2: List to fix or respond.
In this kind of listening, the listener is hearing to respond, not to synthesize and create a meaningful response. I like to think of this as “check-a-box” listening. These listeners want to be the smartest person in the room and instead of taking feedback from customers, they tend to respond immediately without gratitude and with defensiveness and sometimes arrogance. While immediate responses may be necessary, more listening and asking questions is a better approach. You can provide a detailed response later, after you have thought through the feedback provided.

Level 3: Listening autobiographically.
In this kind of listening, the listener hijacks the customers’ story of feedback by using words like “I understand,” “I know what you are talking about,” “I know your pain,” In fact, I had a similar experience …” etc. In this style of listening, the tendency is to “prescribe before diagnosing.” This shuts the customer from offering you full feedback or engaging you in a more complete and transparent way.

Level 4: Listening to truly understand (mirroring).
In this kind of listening, the listener strives to connect with the customer through his or her words. As a listener, you not only pay attention to the words, but you even capture them in such a way that you can repeat them back to the customer. You also notice the behavior and emotion tied to their answers—you focus on what you are hearing emotionally: fear, excitement, doubt, confidence, and so on.

To be an effective listener, you must highly value the conversations you have with your customers. Once the customer feels you are truly listening, magic starts to happen. If you connect with them and make them feel heard, they will go out of their way not only to provide feedback, but also to serve as a brand evangelist and provide referrals if your solution matches their needs. If you want to adapt your business to your customers’ changing needs and see success, you must be a Level-4 listener.

Ron Price is a business, leadership, strategy and innovation advisor. He is the author of six books and the founder of The Complete Leader, the world’s largest online resource for personal and team leadership development.