Listening Levels and the Brain — Level Two

I want to start this blog post out with a poem:

why poetry?

Helen Keller said
she came alive
when she learned her first word
Anne Sullivan traced it in her palm
over and over
while the wetness splashed around them
from a chaotic background of everything
jumbled and banging together all at once
came one thing
alone and distinct
and she, the girl, the being
was there
her conscious life
now possible

we need distinctions and clarity
we need to know where one thing starts
and another ends
we need to shape our amorphous feelings
into some sort of understanding
poems are our Anne Sullivans
tracing something
again and again
on the contours
of our mind

~Ann Betz; more poems online at my website: Eccentric Spirit


While this poem is titled “why poetry” it could just as well be called “why Level Two listening?” When we listen from Level Two we listen carefully for specifics. We listen to another’s words and look for what we need to pull out from the background so it can be distinct, clear and understood. It is a pointed, present, focused listening.

In other words, at Level Two, we listen with our Left Brain.

The brain, as I am sure you know, has two hemispheres. It’s because as humans we walk upright and have a lot to process. The walking upright means our heads can’t just keep growing and growing to accomodate a larger and larger brain, so our brains, unlike most other mammals, specialize by hemisphere. The big picture is that the Left hemisphere is basically about separateness while the Right is about oneness (for a bit more see my post Come on Over to the Right Side). Things like language and emotion and creativity, long thought to be “in” one hemisphere or the other, actually overlap into both, although they are dealt with very differently. The Right hemisphere sees the big picture but not the details, the Left sees the details but not the big picture. Thank goodness we have two hemispheres! In my next post I’ll look more deeply at Level Three listening (spoiler alert — it’s the Right hemisphere…) but for now let’s focus on Level Two.

Which is a great segue, because that is what Level Two is about — focusing. Our left brain pulls out the figure from the background. When you do a word search puzzle, your left brain is what finds the particular word in the sea of letters. The right brain would only be able to see a bunch of lines and — here’s what’s really important – wouldn’t be able to make meaning of them. In Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED talk and book, My Stroke of Insight, she talks about having a stroke that took out much of her left brain. When she needed to make a phone call, she couldn’t recognize the numbers. She had to match them one by one from a business card in order to make a phone call, an long and painful process. The numbers had no meaning.

When we listen at Level Two, we listen carefully for what is important and distinct and meaningful for the client. Sometimes this is a bit like doing a word search as they pour out their lives to us. And often when we reflect back “what we heard” such as a key value, longing, or frustration they are amazed and ask us how we got that from what they said! And then, in the coaching relationship, meaning and understanding emerge for the client, as well as goals and forward action. (see my post on Forward the Action, Deepen the Learning.)

Level Two is a valuable tool in our coach’s tool chest. But that is what it is, really, just a tool. Even Level Two is held within something bigger — Level Three.

To be continued……. 🙂


One response

  1. Great post Ann! Just watched Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED talk – it is so powerful! I am working my way forward through your posts, and loving every minute of it!! Thank you!

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