Contribute/Facilitation Training/Active Listening

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Active Listening

20 minutes

Goal: Active listening helps people to be more aware of their space and their fellow participants. Through active listening we can build stronger and more cohesive communities of change. Participants will learn to listen to one another, not just hear one another.

Active listening is a useful skill for all sorts of situations – whether you're taking part in meetings and workshops or dealing with conflict. By actively listening we can come to understand how the speaker feels about a subject or situation – we hear through their words and tune into their underlying emotions, concerns and tensions.

There are three levels of active listening.

Levels of Listening

Level 1: Internal Listening (All About Me)

At Level 1, your awareness is on yourself. You listen to the words of the other person, but your attention is on what it means to you. The spotlight is on ‘me’: my thoughts, my judgments, my feelings, my opinions, and my conclusions. Some of the questions you might be asking are:

  • How does this relate to me?
  • What’s interesting about this to me?
  • How am I doing?
  • What can I add to this?
  • How am I feeling?
  • What do they think of me?

Level 2: Focused Listening (All About Another Person)

At Level 2, there is a sharp focus on the other person. Sometimes you can see it in each person’s posture: both leaning forward, looking intently at each other. There is a great deal of attention on the other person and not much awareness of the outside world. You listen for the other person’s words, meaning, challenges, emotions. You notice what they say and how they say it. Level 2 listening communicates empathy, clarification and collaboration. Some of the questions you might be asking are:

  • What does this mean to him or her?
  • What does he or she need or want?
  • What is she/he feeling?
  • What is going on for her/him?
  • How is this working for her/him?
  • How can we connect?

Level 3: Global Listening (All About the Energy)

To listen at Level 3 you must be open and ready to listen for information that may not be directly observable. You are listening to the people you as well as the environment. It is sometimes described as environmental listening. It is the ability to read a room – the mood, the emotions, the unspoken information – and monitor how it changes in response to what you do. Comedians, musicians, trainers have this ability. It includes observing the action, the inaction, and the interaction in a group. Good questions to ask yourself when listening at this level are:

  • What’s needed here?
  • What is happening in the space?
  • What is the quality of the energy?
  • What is being called for here?
  • Is something missing? Is there too much of something?


8 minutes

  1. Create groups of 4 (okay to double-up if group does not evenly divide into 4).
  2. Assign roles as follows:
    • Storyteller
    • Internal listener
    • Focused listener
    • Global listener
  3. Storyteller tells a story for 5 minutes. Listeners practice listening only in their assigned modes.

Debrief: Have each of the listeners talk about what they noticed.