Three Levels of Listening - Exponent Philanthropy
A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Three Levels of Listening

At Exponent Philanthropy, we believe that listening is an essential skill for effective philanthropy. Deep listening helps our members truly understand the needs of their community and cultivate connected and impactful relationships with others.

At the same time, listening is a skill that very few of us are ever trained to do well.

Once you’re grounded in a deep listening mindset, the next step is to become aware of how you’re directing and tuning your listening. Here are three levels of listening. Depending on the level you’re using, you will hear very different things.

Internal listening

  • Awareness is on me, the listener. I’m hearing my thoughts, my feelings, my ideas, and my judgments.
  • The question I’m asking myself here is, “What does this mean to me?”
  • At this level of listening, you may be listening to respond.
  • As a philanthropist, you may use internal listening to ensure your foundation’s needs and priorities, or your own goals as a leader, are being advanced in a conversation.

Focused listening

  • I lose all awareness of self at this level of listening. I have laser focus on the other person.
  • I notice what the other person is saying and not saying (emotions, energy, and body language).
  • Focused listening allows us to hear people in a much deeper way. In philanthropy, you can use this level of listening to understand someone else’s unique ideas, thoughts, and perspectives.

Global listening

  • I have a 360-degree soft focus when I’m listening globally.
  • I’m listening to everything I can observe with my senses—in the person talking, in myself, and in the environment.
  • Global listening gives you greater access to your senses and intuition. As a philanthropist, you could use global listening during a site visit or a meeting with a group of people.

Which level of listening is easiest for you to access? And what does it take for you to shift into the other levels of listening—so that you can hear and understand others more deeply?

Henry BermanHenry Berman became Exponent Philanthropy’s CEO in 2011, previously serving as acting CEO, board member, and committee member. Through his experience as a foundation co-trustee and Exponent Philanthropy member since 2003, he brings a firsthand understanding of the needs of members to his role.

jen-lachmanJen Lachman is an executive coach who supports mission-driven leaders and organizations to act with greater purpose, authenticity, and impact. You can sign up to receive her free emails and learn how you can become a stronger and more effective philanthropic leader.


  1. Mally Cox-Chapman

    Great post. I find that focused listening often includes follow-on questions that keeps the focus on whomever you are listening to, and often results in a much deeper sharing as the “listened to” realizes that they have my full attention.

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