We can communicate on one-or all-of four different levels at any given time:

1. facts,
2. meaning,
3. feelings, and
4. intention.

“The house is burning” is a simple, straight-forward statement. But those four words — depending on how they are said — may mean:

  • “A residential structure is being consumed by flames.” (Facts)
  • “The house we’re in is on fire.” (Meaning)
  • “Ahhhh!!!!” (Feelings)
  • “Run for your life.” (Intention)

Sometimes we don’t understand other people, because we’re not listening — or not listening well. We’re distracted or simply not paying attention. But sometimes we don’t understand them, because we’re not hearing what they want to communicate. We’re not listening to the right level.

We may hear the facts, for example, but miss the feelings.

Strategic listening allows you to hear the various messages people are communicating.

Level 1 The Facts

People want to Convey information
Our task is to Listen for details and clarify.
We need to ask “Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?”
Our goal is to Picture the situation as the person is describing it.


Level 2 Meaning

People want to Make themselves understood.
Our task is to Listen for the big picture; summarize and paraphrase.
We need to ask “Am I understanding you correctly?”
“Is this what you’re getting at?”
Our goal is to Understand what the person means — and make the other person feel understood.

Level 3 Feelings

People want to Connect on an emotional level.
Our task is to Listen with empathy; pay attention to body language and tone of voice.
We need to ask “How does this make you feel?”
“It sounds to me like you’re feeling.”
Our goal is to Recognize how the person is feeling — and make the other person feel connected.

Level 4 Intention

People want to Get their needs met.
Our task is to Listen for wants and needs; focus on solutions, action steps, and outcomes
We need to ask “What do you want to have happen?”
“What would help you in this situation?”
“What can you/we do about it?”
Our goal is to Know what the person wants to achieve.


Check out The Listening Leader.

Chris Witt, a coach based in San Diego, works with executives and with technical experts who want to give more effective presentations. If you’re interested in learning more about how you could benefit from his coaching, contact him for a complimentary call