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Podcast Episode 056: The Five Levels of Listening – Listening to the Content

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Listening to the content is Level Two listening. But it’s more than just the words being said.

It’s important to understand that what you hear, see and sense together make up listening for the content.

Only 2% of us have been taught how to listen, but all of us know when we’re not being listened to.

“I’m explaining the same thing over and over again.”
“They’re just nodding and saying ‘hmm’.”

Do you know how to listen tone and pauses? How about body language?

In this episode, Oscar and Nell unpack how to really listen to the content of what someone is saying.


Deep Listening Podcast Episode 56: The Five Levels of Listening – Listening to the Content

Oscar Trimboli:

Deep Listening, impact beyond words. I’m Oscar Trimboli and this is the Apple award-winning podcast, Deep Listening. Designed to move you from an unconscious and distracted listener to a deep and impactful listener. Did you know you spend 55% of your day listening, yet only 2% of us have had any training in how to listen? Frustration, misunderstanding, wasted time and opportunity, along with creating poor relationships, are just some of the costs of not listening.

Each episode of the series is designed to provide you with practical, actionable and impactful tips to move you through the five levels of listening. I invite you to visit to learn more about the five levels of listening and how to learn from others who are listening better. Joining me is our co-host, Nell Norman-Nott who will ask the questions that you’ve been asking and asking me the questions I haven’t considered to help make you a deep and impactful listener.

In this episode of Deep Listening, we’ll spend time to understand what’s the ingredients in the recipe for listening at level two, listening to the content. In this episode, we’ll spend time understanding how you hear, see and sense. This is the essential ingredients of level two.

Now, as we spend time with the Facebook group, when we look at the research itself, it’s a real struggle at level two. Whether it’s in training courses, at the front of the room, or whether I’m working with individuals, they struggle with some of the most basic things when it comes to hearing, seeing and sensing all different types of content. Because listening to the content is not just what you hear, it’s also what you see, it’s also what you sense. Nell, you and I have spent some time looking at level two research feedback. What are we hearing?

Nell Norman-Nott:

Absolutely, Oscar. The things that we’re hearing are that people really struggle with several key areas. These are some comments that are literally verbatim from the research and from within the Facebook group. Being misunderstood, having to explain myself repeatedly, asking the exact question that I’ve already clearly stated the answer to. When they aren’t making eye contact or even looking in my direction. When I can tell someone else isn’t listening to me. Their eyes are glazing over or their eyes are wandering, I can tell that they’re just nodding along and saying, mm-hmm (affirmative)

Oscar Trimboli:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Nell Norman-Nott:

Thanks for that, Oscar.

Oscar Trimboli:

Look, Nell, it’s funny because only 2% of us have been taught how to listen. But none of us need any training to distinguish when someone isn’t listening to us. It’s natural human instinct. It’s in our nature to notice when people aren’t listening to us. So, it’s really critical when we think about level two. Level two has got three essential ingredients in it. It’s what you hear, it’s what you see, and it’s what you sense. This is the overview of what we’re going to spend some time with around level two.

You see, most of the active listening literature from the ’80s and the ’90s starts in this place. Say things like mm-hmm (affirmative) nod your head and paraphrase. Now, that’s not to say that’s not productive. Most of the active listening literature starts with a focus on the speaker, and you listening carefully to the content. They spend time talking about visual cues as well, in terms of body language, but we’re going to go a little bit deeper.

Today, as we unpick the three levels of understanding what it means to listen for the content. You see, at level two, there’s three things; what you hear, what you see and what you sense. The hearing is about the words, the sentences. Equally, it’s about the tone, and the pause. Listening for what you see is about seeing their eyes, seeing their mouth, seeing how their body and their posture shows up in a conversation. Then finally, listening for the content when you sense. You’re listening and sensing what the energy is, what the alignment is, and what the state of that person is in that particular moment.

Most of the listening literature actually stops here at level two as well. What we want to do is just spend a little bit of more time to understand what’s getting in people’s way. Now, most people listen in black and white. They listen to what they hear, and they see to listen. But what I want to show them is there’s five different colours when it comes to listening. We want to move you from a black and white listener to a technicolour listener. A listener that has nuance across five different colours of listening.

Nell Norman-Nott:

What you’re saying, Oscar, reminds me of that episode with Graham Bodie, Episode 33, where he explains that people who are speaking believe you’re a better listener based on verbal cues. What you hear and how you signal to the speaker that you’re listening.

Graham Bodie:

The intriguing thing about listening is generally thought of as a cognitive phenomenon, but the only way we may know other people are doing is behaviorally. It operates cognitively, but it’s perceived behaviorally. Almost 100% of the things that we do that signal that we are listening are behavioural. There are the eye contact, the head movements, the gestures and so forth. So the words that we speak.

The research that we’ve done, we have found that verbal actions primarily are more important to people’s perceptions of others as good listeners than are the nonverbal components. Not that the nonverbal components are unimportant, it’s just that we attribute competency in listening or goodness in listening primarily as a function of those verbal components.

Oscar Trimboli:

Now, the words are interesting. But when we start to hear at a different level, when we start to listen a little deeply at level two, we usually think about words. We think about sentences, we think about stories, but there’s another level of nuance when it comes to hearing. Hearing to tonality, hearing to the tone, hearing for the pause. I think Lisa Lockland Bell did a great deconstruction of this in Episode 15, where she explains how she listens to the tone.

Lisa Lockland Bell:

The first thing that I’m missing for, is my physical response. One, that I like the tone of your voice, or I don’t. Is there elements that we can have a discussion where we’re going to get on that same wavelength? I think if you knew tuning into the radio station, let’s call it ABC, are we on exactly the same channel? That comes through vibration and aligning those vibrations and perhaps mirroring the way that we’re speaking together. So, I’m listening for that straight away. What do I have to match your vibration or what do I have to do to bring you into alignment with mine?

There’s a little dance that goes on in this environment, we’re going to have a conversation, we want to make the most of it and bring clarity to what we’re talking about. It’s important for me to understand how I can benefit you and how you can actually comment, and we match each other.

I’m listening for the nuances and inflexions. I’m listening for when you make a statement, are you actually landing the voice with a downward inflexion? So that that gives me a feel that you really know what you’re talking about? That I have confidence in you. I’m listening for, when you’re asking a question, have you got an upward inflexion, or is there a downward inflexion which gives me a feeling of, maybe I’m not saying what you want me to say?

I’m also listening to the way that you deliver, the timing in the cadence. Are you just rattling off in a really rapid questions without putting thought into it, and making sure that it’s very clear and it’s well executed?

Nell Norman-Nott:

What prompted you to interview a voice coach, Oscar?

Oscar Trimboli:

Lisa’s story has got many layers in it. When you get into the interview, it’s also a brilliant interview about listening for meaning, and it’s her own meaning. As she listened to tones in other people’s voices, how she was able to discover what was blocking them when it comes to using their voice fully. But as we went through the interview, she also understood what was blocking her in her own progress and what was stuck in her voice.

But a bit of trivia last year, 2018, she coached the Australian winner of the TV show, The Voice. So, she’s an amazing coach when it comes not only to helping hear what’s in other people’s voice, but helping people bring their full voice to a stage particularly in the sense of the TV show, The Voice.

The next level of listening to the content is what you see, and making sure that you’re at eye level with somebody improves your hearing, plus your ears are lined up between both parties. Now, you’re much taller than me. But equally that shows up when you’re at home and getting to eye level or ear level with your family.

Nell Norman-Nott:

Yeah, I think that is such an obvious way to apply that with children. The challenge there can be as you said, being on the same level with their eye level and having your ears at the same levels. I notice in our house that the dynamic of the conversation really changes particularly when the kids are in another room, we’re busy in the mornings, we’re getting ready. I’m shout down the stairs and say, “Finley, can you just put your shoes, your sun cream on and go and brush your teeth.” Because these are practically just things we need to get done and the time it takes to come out of the bathroom from maybe where I’ve been brushing my teeth or doing my hair or whatever, down the stairs to go and talk to Finn and get down to his eye level and actually say, “Finley, we need to now brush your teeth. We need to put your sun cream on, we need to do all these things get ready for school. Can you do that please?”

It feels a really time consuming thing for me to do. But what I noticed is that by shouting, you set up this aggressive environment, which isn’t what I want to establish with my children. I definitely try and apply this principle. I don’t think I always do. But what I notice is that if I’m less to shout and to speak down to my children, they’re less likely to do that too.

You’ve got an interview with someone who talks about this, Justin Coulson, I think coming up. That sounds like a fascinating episode.

Oscar Trimboli:

Yeah, we’re dedicating a whole episode to listening to children with Dr. Justin Coulson, who has six of his own. He’s a child psychologist, and he’s written nine books and is currently working on the 10th. Some really basic tips. If you can’t get down to eye level, maybe your knees aren’t so great, or your back’s not so good, then bring the child up and put them on a bench, so you’re looking at them directly in the eyes as well.

But equally he mentioned when your face timing them or calling them, if you’re not in the same location, make sure your eye level is at their eye level. If you have to sit down to listen to them rather than stand up and pace, you’re listening dynamic will change there as well.

I’d heard that tip when it came to the phone, but not necessarily the FaceTime. Having the video so you can engage on there is great. But even getting your physical eye level down to their eye level when your face timing as well was a great insight that Justin brought there as well.

Nell Norman-Nott:

You must be great at this, Oscar, because with your grandchildren, you must be practising it all the time.

Oscar Trimboli:

Well, look, with Zander and Paige, it’s super easy because you’re literally carrying them around-

Nell Norman-Nott:

They’re eight months old now?

Oscar Trimboli:

Actually, they’re 11. In March they’re going to be a year old, which is kind of crazy. Ruby’s just started school. With me is just catching up to Ruby to ask her how her day is at school. She’s a couple of weeks into school now and she’s just a bowl of energy. For me, it’s not getting down at a her eye level, it’s just catching up with her. She’s like a busy bee, always buzzing around.

I think when it comes to kids, it reminds me of one of the great deep listening cards at this level, listening for curiosity. Now, we’ve talked about one of the cards, self-talk in the past. This card is about the curiosity of a child. Remember, there’s four levels in the cards. There’s the concept, there’s the explanation, there’s the tip, and then there’s the question.

Now, on this card here that I’m showing you, which is from the suite level two, it’s called curiosity. One of the things that engages you, it invites you, it implores you to do is it says curiosity creates opportunity to hear and see and sense more possibilities. The tip’s particularly relevant here. Listen, like a seven year old. Imagine you’re hearing whatever they’re saying for the very first time. The question here, it’s really simple, but it’s quite powerful. I wonder what a seven year old might ask right now?

For a lot of us, we make assumptions we don’t bring that curiosity to it, we don’t bring that wonder about possibility to any conversation. For a lot of us, we do it because we think it’s faster. But we might miss something really important if we don’t explore with curiosity.

Now I think as we get older, we get much better at sensing things beyond the words, beyond the paragraphs, beyond the stories. We start to hear inflexion, we start to hear tone. With time and wisdom and maturity, when people pause, we notice that maybe something is in that that we need to listen a little bit more to. Equally, if the tonality changes from something that’s completely different, or there’s something giving away in the tonality that’s a difficult topic to raise, or emotion may be present in their eyes, not just in what they’re saying. I think for a lot of us, tonality is something in the speed of listening as fast as we can, or with lots of distractions that we’re not conscious of. Where does tonality show up in your world? What’s tonality mean for you?

Nell Norman-Nott:

It reminds me of something that said in Sarah Cooper’s book. Sarah wrote a book called, How To Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings. Actually, Oscar, you gave me this book. I’m hoping I haven’t offended you and I need to be a bit more careful with how I talk. It’s all written in jest. It’s a fantastic book, and I’ve really loved reading it because so many parts of it really resonated with me. Particularly this content about tonality.

Sarah talks about voice pitch. She talks about women and how it’s a struggle being a woman in a corporate world because our voices and our tone is different to men. I’m just going to read this little bit from the book because it really resonates with me. It’s about voice pitch. Voice pitch is very tricky for women. Our normal speaking voices are naturally shrill and annoying, or too deep and not feminine enough. We must practise consistently to speak in a tone that is pleasing to the male ear. In fact, we may be practising for the rest of our lives because this tone has not been discovered yet.

I think that’s just a really good encapsulation of what women struggle with when it comes to speaking and speaking in a tone where they get respect and credibility in what is an environment that’s often dominated by the male voice and the male time.

Oscar Trimboli:

I give that book out to many of my clients. They all ask me the exact same question at the exact same time as they read the cover. The second question you posed to me. In that case, did any of those women offend me, but I think in Sarah’s humour, in Sarah’s mirror of reality in the workplace, she gives women the courage to know that they’re not alone in dealing with these particular issues. My wish for everybody that I’ve given it out to and I hope they pass it on to many others, and have a good giggle, is to normalise what they might feel as just something specific to them.

Quite often, I joke as, let’s have a reading from the book, according to Sarah, as we kick off a meeting with one of my female clients. I always say, I guarantee you, no matter what page you turn to, prove to me that that’s not true. Now, let’s turn to another page and read something out and prove to me it’s not true.

Nell Norman-Nott:

I just love the way it’s so ridiculous when you read it on the page and it happens every day. Sarah talks about voice loudness. When speaking during your interview, it’s important to speak passionately, but not so loudly that you scare your interviewers. You also don’t want to speak to softly either. However, speaking to yourself in your head is always permitted, especially if it’s to remind yourself not to speak too much.

Oscar Trimboli:


Nell Norman-Nott:

Well, thank you for giving me that book, Oscar, because it’s definitely added some comedy to my life when I reflect on some of the situations I’ve been in. I think there’d be lot of women out there that would probably resonate with that as well.

Oscar Trimboli:

If you’re on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook, I’d really suggest you follow Sarah Cooper. If you’re a woman in the workplace, whether you’re paid or not, because women are always in a workplace, even if you’re at home, looking after kids, that’s a battlefield. It’s a minefield. So check out Sarah Cooper, it’s a great book.

When we start to listen to the content, one of the things we want to look at is eyes. A lot of people think about eyebrows, they think about the area around your eyes, they think about your chin, they think about your cheeks. In an upcoming episode, we interview the human lie detector. Susan Constantine helps judges, helps emergency responders to decode eye movement.

She talks about the fact that intuitively every human knows when that micro movement in the eye is creating incongruency between what they’re saying and what’s showing up in their face. But for a lot of us, we haven’t been trying to decode, we should trust our gut feel because that gut feels telling us really quickly but then our mind rationalise it really quickly. So, let’s hear from Susan about how she decodes and what you need to watch out for when it comes to the eyes.

Susan Constantine:

People might look at someone across from them and saying, is there something wrong? Are you mad at me? Now, why would they know that? How would they know that? Well, it’s because their facial expression is different from their norm is. It’s more tightened, their eyebrows are more narrowed. Their facial expression looks more tense. Naturally, human beings can pick up on certain expressions. But what they’re not really good at doing is decoding them accurately. Because you have to be trained. I really caution people to make observations about others and decode it on their own without the proper training, because research has told us that about 50% at best at reading people, their luck is about as flipping a coin.

That includes federal law enforcement, clinical psychologists. I train federal court judges. I can tell you right now, most of them can’t detect deception. They get very skewed. They get very skewed because they’re watching so many people lying to them, they assume that everybody’s lying to them. If they pick up on one clue, automatically, they’re lying.

Oscar Trimboli:

Now, the point Susan makes is be careful trying to decode these things in isolation. It’s not one hint that you get. If you read it in isolation, you could completely misread the situation. It’s a combination of factors. If you listen to the full episode, coming up soon, she talks about how she’s literally coded this into artificial intelligence software, with video cameras to help software start to identify when this is happening. To me, it’s mind blowing to see the multi factors that have gone into the calculations around eye movement, chin movement, eyebrow raising; eyebrow raising in, eyebrow raising up, it’s very detailed. It’s very thoughtful. It’s very clever.

Now, we’ll spend a bit of time on the two of the three ingredients around listening for content, listening to hear and listening to see. But as I’ve learned, as people have pointed out to me, listening to sense is listening beyond the words It’s about sensing the energy level, their alignment and what their state is at the moment, and what it’s changing to during the conversation.

The first level of sensing is sensing their energy. I think, Holly Ransom in Episode 42 did a great job of speaking about how she listens for the energy when she’s listening to leaders like President Barack Obama.

Holly Ransom:

One of the things that strikes me about leaders and it’s probably something I listen for a lot as much as people might go, “Oh, that’s a strange thing to listen for.” I listen for energy, and I listen, for a sense of how convicted I believe someone ease is in what they’re talking about. From there, I think as well, a sense of how will they know themselves and the things that they stand for.

One of the things that really strikes me about President Obama, he’s so grounded in his energy. There’s a real calmness to the way that he conveys ideas. That’s not to say he’s not engaging. He’s unbelievably engaging. I think what’s interesting about it is the energy with which that’s anchored. It really is a strong conviction. This is a man that’s gone inside and out and upside down in challenging himself to think through why does he believe one way or the other? Why does he choose to make decisions one way or another? To arrive at the point where he has a really strong sense of self and therefore a really strong conviction in the way that he believes and the way that he led during his time in the White House. That was really evident in the way that he would talk-

Oscar Trimboli:

When we think about sensing, Nell, we’re thinking about their energy and your energy. But the next one is understanding the alignment. It’s the alignment between their energy and their words. Alignment’s ultimately about the congruency between what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. As humans, we have this innate ability to sense when something is out of alignment with the speaker. Quite often, it’s our signal when they’re not telling the truth.

But for a lot of us, we overplay that. In all cases, it doesn’t mean that they’re not telling the truth when they’re out of alignment, it could mean that they’re speaking about something that’s troubled them from their past. It’s something that’s emotional for them, it could be something that’s awkward and difficult for them to express or explain. So, be careful how you look at alignment, because if you only look at it in isolation, you could be making some big listening mistakes. Let’s listen back to Episode 15, with Lisa Lockland Bell, the voice coach and how she listens for the alignment with energy.

Lisa Lockland Bell:

I look for the indicators with content, eye movement, gestures, and listening for the synergy between the colour of the tone that they’re using in alignment with the word that they’re actually using. Do all of these elements match up? Is the body telling the same story or is the body telling a different story? I’m looking for all these cues, where they may be saying one thing, but the rest of your communication, the physical body within the physical body is telling me something else.

Oscar Trimboli:

Now, Lisa is a great practitioner of listening all the way through what you hear, what you see, and what you sense. But something I hear back from people, probably close I notice it a lot more because I’m conscious of it more. The thing I’m working on at level two, the muscle I’m trying to build, because I’m not an expert I’m not perfect is actually hear, sensing the state change in a person.

It’s probably one of the most powerful things people comment back to me. Because I often say to people, did you notice what just happened for you? In most cases, they don’t. They’ll say something like, “Yeah, something changed.” They’ll take a really long pause, and they’ll reflect or they’ll take a really deep breath. It’s their state that’s changed. When I talk about their state, it’s their body posture, it’s their breathing, it’s their tonality. It’s a transition maybe from talking about the past consistently, to starting to talk about the future. In that inflexion point, their energy in their state changes.

I often find when I’m listening here at level two, and really practising hard around sensing what’s different in their state, it’s simply the question, “Did you notice what just changed for you?” Often, what I think has changed for them, and what’s actually changed for them are two completely different things. But I’m deliberately not bringing judgement to what I think has changed for them in the moment. Quite often, at the end of our meeting, they’ll comment and they’ll say to me, how did you notice what changed for me?

Now, I can say, I’m working on it, and it’s a muscle I’m trying to build. But for most of us, we can sense when people’s state does change. I think for me, the other question I ask is, what just happened then? The longer the pause or the deeper the breath, the bigger the state change has been for them as well. I guess the trick for me now, Nell, is to learn how to move that from one on ones and group settings, from maybe one to five people to tens to twenties, to fifties, and hundreds and thousands. Have you noticed state change in a room?

A lot of us are thinking about listening only in a dialogue with one other person or a small group. The bit I’m working on to get better in hear and sensing is, how do I sense the tension in the room? I’m sure you’ve been in rooms where you could cut the tension with a knife.

Nell Norman-Nott:

Sometimes, it can only be the presence of one individual in that room that can change the whole atmosphere because of the way that they behave and how that resonates on the behaviour of the other people in the room. It can all be a very subtle undertaking, that absolutely can feel like you can cut it with a knife.

Oscar Trimboli:

Nell, you take my mind back to a workshop I was doing, would have been July last year. Again, a beautiful location on Sydney Harbour. I can even remember the photo I took with the sunrise over the flagstaff. Of course, it was July, it’s winter in Australia, and the sun gets up around 7:00 in the morning and I’ve arrived early to set up.

But in this group, by lunchtime, there was a very obvious topic that people weren’t talking about. For me, the skill to hold the tension in the room was not to let people talk over each other at one particular point in time. I made a reflection after lunch. The reflection I made was, wow, it was really fascinating what you guys were talking about over lunch, because one on one, you’re talking about topics that you should be talking about in this room, but you’re choosing not to. I just stopped and paused. I could have spoken a lot more at that point. But I knew what I was helping to explore in the room was, how do I explore the state of everybody in that moment?

What was interesting about this group, all men, all in their 40s and their 50s, all in highly technical professions, all at the top of their profession, in a very successful organisation, I was going to outwait them. The silence was unbelievably deafening. They all knew they had to say something. Then across the room, I noticed one of the main, state changed. I asked him, “What just happened for you?” He took a huge deep breath, and he sighed out. He said, “What I’m wondering is, we’ve been struggling with this for five years. You’ve been with us for five minutes, and you have put your finger right on it.” He said, “It’s like those special agents who can choke you with two fingers. I feel right now you’re putting a lot of pressure on the group. Yet you’re not. We’re putting the pressure on ourselves.”

Then the leader said, “So let’s talk about it.” With that beautiful invitation, state of the entire room changed, and they had a real conversation. It was at that point that they came to the conclusion that they were trying to force change on their people that they weren’t willing to do themselves, but they weren’t willing to discuss it in the room.

I’m not great at it. It’s one of the things I really struggle with is this sensing pace. But can you see, Nell, how it’s like putting a key into a lock? It’s like fiddling with a safe. If you get the right combination, you can open up a completely different conversation.

Nell Norman-Nott:

The atmosphere in that room must have been kind of electric when you got to that moment.

Oscar Trimboli:

I think it was relief.

Nell Norman-Nott:


Oscar Trimboli:

I think there was permission now to speak about this idea that they weren’t comfortable speaking about. For me, when I talk about Deep Listening: Impact Beyond Words, it’s that bit, beyond words. It’s that bit that wasn’t said that help relieve the tension to unlock what’s possible. One of the things that were banging on to their staff about was cost control. The reflection that they made was if we were really serious about cost control, would we come to this fancy location, which was in a very beautiful part of Sydney Harbour, in a beautiful meeting room, with beautiful food, and manicured lawns and all of that.

The incongruity for me, the major topic that we’re talking about the whole time was cost control. But against the backdrop of this luxury location, that’s going the opposite. Hopefully, that helps people understand when you start to listen to content when you’re sensing, you can make a big difference not just for you, but for groups of other people as well.

Nell Norman-Nott:

It reminds me of a conversation that I had with someone that I worked with, she’s called Lisa. We worked together pretty closely. I was in marketing, she was in sales. We had fairly regular catch ups. This one time she was really direct and really abrupt. You talk about state change, it felt really quite confronting. Got me quite annoyed, actually. But what I tried, instead of getting annoyed back at her was just to say, what’s happening, I’m here to help.

At that point, you talk about state change. She literally crumbled physically in the chair and just said, “I’m pregnant. This is a really big deal for me. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the team. It’s a really tricky timing. It’s what I want. It’s what my husband wants, it’s what I’ve always wanted. I don’t know what to do. You’ve got kids, how do I cope with all of this?” We then had a really open conversation that was personal for her, and we could move on and then also talk about the work aspect as well.

But I think, there is a choice in those kind of situations, how do you react to it? Do you lean in and try and unravel what the problem is or push back? I think I’ve definitely been in scenarios where I’ve pushed back as well and just gone, that’s been really difficult. I’m glad in that situation I didn’t, because you’re telling the stories about how people physically change made me just think of that moment for me.

Oscar Trimboli:

So, two observations I’ll make, the states changed in our room. That’s delightful, and that’s one of the reasons why I really wanted to bring on you as a co-host to bring that different perspective. But if you’ve got a podcast app that can rewind, maybe two minutes, listen back again how Nell said the word pregnant and notice her tonality. That’s a really good master class for you in noticing tonality change. Because everything up until and after that was in a completely different tone. The moment you said pregnant, your tone frayed.

Nell Norman-Nott:

I didn’t even notice that myself.

Oscar Trimboli:

Yeah. Nell, in summary, I think state matters. If you can start to sense the state. Either the state you’re in, the state that changed or the state you want to get to, you can make the listening conversation really productive. But imagine being able to sense the state when you can’t even see? Sammi Grant, a voice accent coach, she coaches actors, actresses in London on the stage, in New York in the theatres. She coaches Oscar award-winning actors in Hollywood and she has amazing vocal variety. But what it gives her is this incredible listening ear, not only to listen for accents, but to listen to tongue position, to listen for throat width and depth, to listen for diaphragm. But what Sammi brought to the interview in Episode 18 was an amazing way to explain how to listen for state.

Sammi Grant:

I think trying to notice beyond content, but trying to notice feeling and emotion behind what they are saying. So, how they’re saying it. Not in terms of necessarily their accent, but the emotion behind the words. I think a lot of people, especially sighted people depend on seeing a face to read emotion or body language. In my life, I don’t have that option. So, I pick up a lot of someone’s emotions from how they’re using their voice. That doesn’t mean always the person crying. Obviously, they’re sad. There’s the person yelling, obviously, they’re mad. Those are obvious to anyone because there are extremes.

But for example, if I tend to always drop down in tone when I’m talking like this. So, I start high and then go low all the time in a conversation, and maybe that’s not what I normally do, that probably means I’m maybe sad or depressed or just down for some reason. Or if I’m doing the opposite, and I’m lifting a lot, even if I’m not smiling, I’m just lifting a lot in what I’m saying, maybe I’m really happy or maybe I’m even really nervous. If I’m doing it incessantly and I’m doing it really fast, noticing things like that.

Trying to go beyond extremes of emotional representation of the voice and really reading into how people use their pitch and their volume. Trying to either express or even hide their emotions. A lot of people try to use their voice to hide their emotions. They go, “No, I’m totally fine. I’m really fine.” But you can hear even though I’m saying I’m fine, my voice is wavering a little. That means I’m absolutely not fine. There’s definitely something wrong.

Oscar Trimboli:

Now, let’s summarise the recipe for level two, listening to the content. It’s about that three things; It’s about what you hear, it’s about what you see, and it’s about what you sense. When we all think about listening, we tend to think about what we hear; words, sentences, paragraphs, stories. Equally, it’s about the tone and paying attention to the pause. When we think about seeing, it’s about seeing the face, it’s about looking in the eyes. It’s about noticing the eyebrows, the cheek movements. It’s about the position of the throat, as well as the lips on the mouth.

But it’s also about the body. It’s about the spine, the shoulders, the tilt, and the turn. Now, you’ll notice when I’m listening intently, I’m always turning my right ear towards the person I’m listening to. Christina, our Brazilian foreign language interpreter and Eva, an Australian foreign language interpreter basically pointed out to me, when you turn your ear to the right with that tilt, you’re listening more for emotion, because it’s connecting with the hemisphere in the brain that’s connected with emotion.

When you notice me tilt my head to the right, that’s meaning I’m dialling up the intensity and listening. I’m also trying to listen for emotion. When you just told that story before about Lisa, I was slowly coming towards you with a the right war.

That’s about all the things that you can see. But finally, it’s about sensing. It’s a hearing beyond the words. It’s hearing their energy. It’s hearing the energy in the words. It’s hearing what’s in their breathing. It’s hearing what’s in their alignment, and it’s hearing what’s in their state. Nell, what are you thinking about right now, at level two?

Nell Norman-Nott:

We’ve covered a lot of content today, Oscar. I think this is really practical, useful things for me and for the other listeners. If you were to give some tips around what it is that we can do, your number one tip for listening to the content, what is it?

Oscar Trimboli:

Most of us will listen to the words, most of us will train ourselves to listen to the words, most of us think we’d listen to the words well. My tip would be watch to listen. Watch to notice the difference between what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. Your gut feel or your intuition will tell you when it’s incongruent. Whether that’s a state change, or somebody stretching the truth or maybe telling the truth in the future, as somebody said to me the other day, which is all code words for not telling the truth.

When you notice that in your gut or in your stomach, just say, “I’m curious, what just changed for you then.” I think that simple price, which is in the deep listening cards, by the way, when you’re listening at the content and helping them to listen to more than what they’ve just said, but help them to listen to how they just said it, you can definitely have an impact beyond words. Just get comfortable with the question. I’m curious what just changed for you.

Nell Norman-Nott:

I’m going to be using that in the future, Oscar. Thank you.

Oscar Trimboli:

For those of you who do enjoy looking forward to the future, listen out for a couple of episodes that we’ve already touched on with Susan Constantine, the human lie detector, with Dr. Justin Coulson, who’s a child psychologist with six girls all of his own as children, and how to listen to the children. Equally, listen out in the future where we’re going to listen for World, four time Memory Champion Boris Conrad, who’s going to talk about how things stay memorable, so that you can remember people’s names at the most basic level, but you can also remember some details and some conversation. I’m really excited about the kinds of guests we’ve got in the podcast series coming forward.

Nell Norman-Nott:

Particularly looking forward to some of those episodes. The tactic that I always use people’s names is repeat it after them, but I feel like that’s a really common one. I can’t wait to hear what Boris is going to tell us.

Oscar Trimboli:

I think Boris does tell us to repeat the name, but then associate something really special with it as well. I’m not going to give away what he says. It’s quite fascinating as he takes us through this beautiful memory palace in the mind, and talks about how people become world memory experts and can literally have a deck of cards shuffled in front of them, 52 and then they’ll read them back in order in under a minute. It’s just mind blowing. But more importantly, how it helps you to become a better listener is really interesting.

Big thank you to you for listening to this Apple award-winning podcast. As a gift from Nell and me and from Johnny, our brilliant sound engineer, we’ve created a really simple, practical, downloadable called, The Five Myths of listening. If you visit,, download it because not only do we give you the five minutes, but we give you the five tips. One of those tips is about level two and how to listen beyond the content that’s just words.

Thanks to you for listening because it’s you that have helped to create this Apple award-winning podcast series. We couldn’t exist without you. It takes a village to nurture a child into a healthy adult and it takes a tribe to create a listening movement of 100 million Deep Listeners in the world. Thanks for listening.

Oscar Trimboli:

Hi, it’s Oscar. If you’re still listening now, you’re probably a really loyal Deep Listener. I’m building an online training programme for managers in organisations. If you’re a manager inside an organisation of more than 500 employees, I’d love you to reach out to me. Just send me an email, that’s, We want to involve you in prototyping this online course and you’ll get lifetime access to this course as one of the prototypers. We’re only looking for five people to participate in this prototyping exercise, and your input ensure that what we’re building is something that we’re listening to and helpful for you. Thanks for listening.

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