Shut Up & Listen (to Yourself)

You know that feeling you get when you’re talking to someone on the phone or on a video call who is obviously tuned into something else—maybe they’re checking email, reading a text message, or planning their post-COVID dream vacation.

It’s really annoying in the moment and you have to figure out how to ask the other person to pay attention to you without sounding like a jerk or just waste your time circling back later to have the conversation all over again.

No doubt about it, being able to access your listening skills when needed at work is as important as making sure you pick up the dog poo in the yard before you cut the grass with a walk-behind mower.

As frustrating as a lack of interpersonal listening skills can be, inner-personal listening skills, self-listening, might be even more vital to helping you get what you want out of work and life. Improvement cannot happen if you aren’t tuned in—really tuned in—to what’s going inside.

Great managers and leaders are experts at both kinds of listening—to others and to themselves.

And right now, in this COVID-19 created stay-at-home introverts’ paradise, might be the best time ever to strengthen your self-listening skills.

When I was doing my coach training, we spent tons of time talking about listening, learning about listening, and… well… just plain LISTENING. Now that I’m teaching the art and science of self-coaching, my clients and I have found that self-listening is the foundation for what we can accomplish.

The self-listening levels

Let me talk you through the 3 coaching listening levels and explain how they compare to self-listening and self-coaching.

Listening Level 1

Socially, level one listening is… not really listening at all. This is the listening that I described in the intro. Or, as I like to describe it, it’s the way that Charlie Brown used to listen to adults in the Peanuts cartoons. Everything they said sounded like “Whaaa whaa whaaaaaa.” Those listening at level one know you’re talking—or making noise with your mouth at least. But they have no idea what you’re actually saying, except for catching a random word here and there.

Likewise, Level 1 self-listening is a general lack of inner awareness. Powerful emotions might come up into consciousness like anger, fear, love, but from day to day, there isn’t much thought given to them. Those who habitually approach life from this level of self-listening often blame other people and circumstances for their actions and any emotions (usually negative) that they might become aware of.

Listening Level 2

In my coach training, the next level of listening was described as listening for content. This is the place where most of our regular interpersonal interactions happen. We listen for content to be able to respond to what is said and to offer answers to questions and solutions to problems that are brought to our attention. Listening like this requires interest in the other person or at least the topic being discussed.

Level 2 self-listening is a similar awareness of what’s going on and keeping an ongoing pulse on one’s internal state. It includes the ability to identify how you might be feeling at any given moment, and to explain those feelings to others or journal about them. Self-listening at this level, like its social listening counterpart, requires effort and intention—mental energy.

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Listening Level 3

The final level of social listening has been called “global” listening. When listening to someone else, it involves more than just hearing words, it allows us to extract meaning from tone of voice, pacing of speech, shifts in body language and facial expression, and note that certain words are given more power by the speaker. A good coach endeavors to listen to a client from this perspective as often as possible. A master coach shifts in and out of this listening level with ease. Level 3 listening allows the coach to get deeper with their client in ways like: “I noticed the word ‘control’ came up a lot as you were talking about that relationship, why is that so important for you here?”

Level 3 self-listening isn’t easy; it takes time, solitude, and practice. It carries with it all of the elements of the previous level, but allows us to go even deeper. From this level we begin to notice patterns in our internal state and to find ways to exercise our own responsibility and ability to shift them. Deep self-listening is essential for you to be able to show up as Hero you, the manager and leader that you want to be. It allows you to go from “What’s Mike’s problem? He seems really sensitive in our team meetings lately…” to “I notice that I’m really reacting strongly to how sensitive Mike has been, why is that? What might I do to shift how I’ve been feeling?”

Especially during these challenging times, self-coaching is an essential element to being a great manager. And self-listening is a key aspect in becoming great at self-coaching and showing up as Hero You at work.

Would you like to know how strong your self-listening skills are? Grab a pen or notes app on your phone and take the following quiz.

Self-listening quiz

Answer each of the following statements as being mostly True or mostly False. Keep a track of your answers as you go.

  1. When I’m upset, I usually stay upset until something else distracts me.

  2. I rarely journal about my feelings or talk to anyone else about them.

  3. I get uncomfortable being alone.

  4. I usually fill silence with music or videos.

  5. I spend most of my alone time on social media or watching videos.

  6. I avoid conversations about my feelings.

  7. I often have trouble falling asleep because I feel worried or anxious.

  8. When I have a problem with someone at work, I have trouble letting it go.

  9. I don’t talk to myself or have any internal dialog.

  10. I rarely, if ever, notice patterns in my thinking and feelings.

Here’s how you can score your quiz. Count up the total number of false responses.

If you’ve got 5 or less false answers, you are more than likely stuck doing lots of Level 1 self-listening. Since great managers are great at managing themselves, your team will benefit greatly by your taking the skill of self-listening more seriously. Try starting with one of the self-coaching exercises I have below.

If your false responses ranged between 6 and 9, your self-listening skills are already developing. No doubt about it, your team is already benefiting from your work on self-listening and self-coaching. Try taking it a step further with one of the self-coaching exercises below.

If you scored a perfect 10 out of 10 false answers to the above quiz questions, you are in tune with what’s going on inside and you likely have already put a lot of work into self-coaching. Keep up the great work!

Whatever you do, don’t neglect the important skill of self-listening as you keep becoming even better.

Here are some self-coaching exercises to support you in focusing on developing your self-listening skills.

Self-listening exercise 1- State tracking

Over the next week, use a notebook or an app on your phone to begin taking note of your feelings throughout the day. Start by selecting certain times throughout the day (i.e. upon waking, noon, 4PM, bedtime) to record the state you’re experiencing at that particular time (i.e. tired, hungry, angry, excited, disappointed, etc.). If you have trouble remembering to track your state, set an alarm to go off when it’s time to take your reading. Try expanding your vocabulary as the days go by so that you don’t recycle any of the specific feelings/sensations throughout the week. If you feel stuck, start with focusing on physical sensations and move toward emotions when it feels natural.

Self-listening exercise 2- Brain dump journaling exercise

In the morning or evening (or both) set a timer and take 5 minutes to write down all of the thoughts and feelings that you notice top of mind. Don’t worry about following any specific format. Just worry about filling up as much blank space as you can during the journaling session. List emotions, thoughts, sensations, or write a story about something that you experienced. If you feel stuck, start with focusing on physical sensations and move toward emotions when it feels natural.

If you’d love to take this conversation further and improve your self-coaching skills, check out my free course for superhero managers at

At Even Better, we know being a manager is the hardest job there is. Feeling stuck and overwhelmed is the enemy. If you’re ready to get more out of work and life by showing up as a Hero Manager, send us a message by clicking HERE.

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