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Level 5 Listening

June 27, 2024 by Twan van de Kerkhof

Listening is at least as important for leaders as talking. For some leaders, but not many, real listening comes naturally. The good news is that listening can be learned and that there are easy techniques that can be applied.

Scott Walker distinguishes five levels of listening in an article for Harvard Business Review of March-April 2024. Walker was a kidnapping and extortion negotiator and is now a team coach and executive. Level 1 is intermittent listening: sometimes listen but also tune out to check your phone or think about your own stuff. Level 2 is listening only long enough to jump in with your own reaction. Level 3 is looking for logic: you’re trying to understand the content of the sender. Level 4 adds the emotional level; you tune in to the emotions as well as the logic. Level 5 is about empathetic curiosity, be with the other in their world. Walker comes up with eight techniques to get to Level 5, symbolized by the mnemonic MORE PIES.

M stands for Minimal encouragers. “Mmm.” “Really?” “Interesting.” The aim is to encourage the other person to keep talking and feel understood.

O stands for Open questions that cannot be answered by yes or no.

R is Reflecting back, mirroring the last few words or key phrases used by your counterparts.

E is Emotional labeling, or ‘Name it to tame it’. It involves offering nonjudgmental observations “about the emotions you think other people are experiencing, the problems they are facing, the way they’re acting, or the views they have”.

P stands for Paraphrasing; translating your understanding of what the other person has said into your own words.

I is I statements. Tell the other party how the situation is affecting you and encourage them to change without directing blame. Describe what happened, how if affects you and what the result was.

E stands for Effective pauses. When there is a silence, wait; most people feel compelled to fill the silence.

S is Summarizing. It is like Paraphrasing but with repeating the other’s own words to help them see their argument more clearly and build trust.

I wish you lots of pies in your conversations, which might then turn into dialogues.