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  • Michela Güttinger

4 Levels of Listening - Theory U/ Deep Listening Exercise

Listening and being in a generative dialogue is at the source of all great leadership, all professional domains of mastery, and relationship and life in general. This exercise is helping us to raise awareness of how we listen and are in dialogue with ourselves and others - to practice that on an ongoing level. I would argue to deeply listen is one of the most difficult skills and also one that allows for deep transformation - individually and collectively. There are many ways to introduce and practice the levels of listening. Here I will present one exercise on how you may introduce it for a group. The four levels of listening refer to the place of our attention, which we can practice to deepen and become more aware of with each level - of course the levels are but a reference for our experience which is much more fluid and ever-changing.  Process

  • https://www.presencing.org/resource/tools/listen-desc

inspired by https://www.presencing.org

Needed time & Tools

  • 15-30 mins (depending on scope and depth)

  • Chairs → form a circle of chairs

  • Flipchart with basic infos on the 4 levels


Personal experience I’m happy to share an adaptation of an exercise to introduce and practice the 4 levels of listening. In the part “embodiment” describes the process of what the group can use as a touchstone for the experience of the different levels. 

1) Download: place of attention is habit  →  / Action: People sit on own chair. Everyone represents a clear and pre-determined perspective by placing hands on eyes. Introduce the following: 

  1. Place of attention:I listen in order to confirm what I already know. I project my reality on to the world. 

  2. Communication: empty phrases, politeness: I am socially adapted, I do not show myself and my real position, I say what others want to hear.


2) Factual Listening: Opening the mind/thinking: I listen from outside  → Action: I see others and their perspectives in the circle by taking the hands off my eyes and seeing the others

  1. Becoming aware of differences: data that contradicts my worldview/theory. Good science (Darwin noted everything in his diary that clashed with his theory).

  2. Debate, differentiated confrontation: I say what I mean, I am my opinion.

  3. Exercise to progress and open mind: become aware of the voice of judgement (as you open the eyes to see others)

THRESHOLD: for complex challenges and collective intelligence.

3) Empathic Listening: Opening of the Heart/Feeling: I listen from the place of communication. →  Action: I change my seat and take the place of someone else. I shake their hand and look them in the eyes while being aware of myself: integrity and permeability 

  1. I take the footsteps of someone else, allow for emotional connection

  2. Speak from myself as a part of the larger whole, from defense to inquiry, see oneself (self-reflective system) 

  3. Exercise to progress and open heart: become aware of voice of cynicism (e.g. while shaking hands and looking in the eyes: what keeps me from connecting) 


4) Generative Listening: Opening of the Will: from the highest emerging potential: “we” collectively know more, sense what wants to emerge.  → Action  I stand up and sense where my body takes me, what shape it wants to inhabit. I probe and sense again.

  1. I connect myself with the highest potential of the system and myself. How to know I am in Level 4: energy level, identity more towards the person I really am, authentic (e.g. good coach: hears me in my challenge but holds me in my highest potential) 

  2. Generative flow, collective creativity, cocreation. Building up on dialogue: “What makes sense now for the system?” 

  3. Exercise: becoming aware and letting go of the Voice of Fear

Sources and Further literature


Tagged: #listening, #4 levels

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