Achieving The Four Levels of Communication

Recently I spoke with Ted, who had been spending some time working on leadership skills with one of his newer leaders. This person “Bob” came from a labor industry background and had little exposure to leadership training. When they met the first thing Ted became aware of was that Bob was eager to learn.  He was excited and willing to acknowledge where he needed skill development. Ted conducted a leadership assessment with Bob and determined that Bob would gain the most value from working on his ‘communication’ skills.

Ted asked Bob to give him an example of a recent conflict he could remember having at work. Bob gave an example of a co-worker who he felt was, ‘an idiot’ because she did not give him an answer on a specific request.

Ted explained to Bob that as communicators we are responsible for how we send a message and that our own filter or mindset determines how we will communicate. So if Bob thinks his co-worker is an idiot then guess how he is going to communicate with her.

Ted went on to help Bob see that in every interaction there are four levels of communication awareness and as we work towards the 4th level of awareness, we find ourselves spending more time in solution than in frustration.


Here are the four levels of awareness that I have discovered talking with Ted.

Level 1- We see situations and people as the problem. We think in a linear fashion about behavior so for example, “She ignored me” with level 1 awareness we often feel like a victim or that everyone else needs to change. We might say things to ourselves such as, “she needs to learn how to pay attention” or, “he should know better”. The challenge with level 1 awareness is that it is a powerless level because it is dependent on the other person changing which we have no control over.

Level 2- We see situations and people as an opportunity to learn. We realize that when we are in a calm state we tend to be more open and we are willing to communicate in a way that builds a movement forward. We focus on understanding ourselves better and learning to understand others better as well. We still have challenging interactions but we begin to look for the learning. For example if our request is being ignored we go into internal query with, “why is it bugging me so much that I feel like my request is being ignored?”  Level 2 feels more empowering.

Level 3- We see our situations and people as if we are looking in a mirror.  With level 3 awareness we can look at how someone else’s behavior is a direct reflection of us in some way. For example if someone is ignoring you, a level 3 response would be first to use internal dialogue that acknowledges how this makes you feel, “I am really ticked at Pat right now because I am feeling ignored” and then, “what does this remind me of?” and then “where in my behavior do I ignore other people?”. The answers to these deeper questions then become a compass for relating to the other person. You acknowledge how you are feeling, you question what it is triggering and then you ‘own’ the behavior. Leaders who use level 3 awareness have high levels of daily satisfaction in their work because they see themselves as creators of their reality.

Level 4- We see our interactions and life patterns from meta-cognition, which is an awareness of our own cognitive processes.  You find yourself seeing people and situations from an observant place of openness and curiosity. No one is an enemy, no one is out to get us, everyone is a piece of the bigger picture and there are gifts even in conflict. When we are level 4 leaders things that appeared so stuck and unsolvable at level 1 become absurdly easy to solve. Leaders with level 4 awareness are ‘wise’ with a calm confidence and they exude trust and safety to those they interact with. They are focused, happy and inspire others by their example.

Working as a consultant, coach and speaker has allowed me to become a better communicator.  It has expanded my awareness of my own communication blocks and the areas I need to work on.  Nothing gives me more joy than to help others move through the different levels of awareness and become more empowered and fluid in their communication.

Author: Lisa Rezac, Date Published: November 1, 2012

Lisa Rezac was an instructor for The Leader's Institute ® from 2011-2013. For more details, you can find her on LinkedIn.

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