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From Dr. Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we listen at one of 5 levels of listening. How you listen to your end-users and customers will have a significant impact on your success, and that of the overall I.T. support team or, for that matter, your entire organization. As important as how you actually listen is how you are perceived to listen.

Here’s a video I made on the 5 levels of listening:

Here are the 5 levels of listening:

  1. Ignoring
    The lowest level of listening is called ignoring – not listening at all. If you are distracted by anything while talking to a user, they can get the impression that you are ignoring them. For example, while the user is speaking, you start a conversation or interject a comment with another IT support tech. You are ignoring your user.
  2. Pretend Listening
    Pretend listening is most easily explained in the face-to-face conversation. You’re talking to the other person and they have that “backpacking in Brazil” look in their eyes. On the phone it happens when you say things like “I see” and “OK,” etc. while working on an unrelated email or playing a computer game. People can tell you’re distracted.
  3. Selective Listening
    During selective listening we pay attention to the speaker as long as they are talking about things we like or agree with. If they move on to other things we slip down to pretend listening or ignore them altogether.
  4. Attentive Listening
    Attentive listening occurs when we carefully listen to the other person, but while they are speaking we are deciding whether we agree or disagree, determining whether they are right or wrong. Instead of paying close attention to the other person, we’re formulating our response to what he or she is saying. At all four of these levels it should be evident that we are listening to our own perspective, and in most cases with the intent to respond from our experience.
  5. The fifth level of listening is Empathic Listening, also known as empathetic listening, the top level of listening. To be successful in providing IT support to end-users, you must teach yourself to treat every call as though this is the first time you’ve ever heard this problem, even though you may have heard it many times before. Discipline yourself to see it through the eyes of the user. This is called empathic listening. Empathic listening is the highest level of listening, and the hardest to accomplish.

To achieve empathic listening, slow down, be patient, talk less and listen more, repeat back what was said to ensure you don’t overlook anything.

At the end of the call or visit, do a short recap of what you have discussed, what approach you are suggesting, and any follow up on your part or the user’s part that is needed. Be specific about how you will follow up, what you will do, and what the he can expect and when it will happen.

A great way to evaluate whether you’re doing empathic listening or not is to ask yourself “WHERE IS YOUR FOCUS?”

As you think about the 5 levels of listening, think about the fact that the first four levels are self-focused, while the fifth level (empathic listening) is focused on the user. When your focus is completely on the user and not on yourself, your level of service will be much higher.

Becoming a better listener is a skill that requires you to be aware when you’re starting to drift away from listening and intentional about bringing your focus back to the speaker.

Learn How to Be a Better Listener

Build better relationships, both at work and in your personal life. Gain the respect of the people around you by becoming a better listener.

Become wiser by improving your listening skills.

Take my online, on-demand training The Fine Art of Listening Well: How to Be a Better Listener. Check out the course outline and description here.

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