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The Art of Listening - The first skill of a Scrum Master

June 3, 2020

I was once told that we have one mouth and two ears and that we should use them in those proportions. Now, those who know me will know that I struggle with that....

Small Boy Listening

Over the past few months I've been spending time exploring professional coaching via Co-Active coaching.

One of the things a Scrum Master should be doing, is to practice, improve and refine the coaching skills. It is a must if you're going to remain impactful for your team & organisation. 

In one module of the training at Co-Active we discussed the different types of listening and when we are listening,  there are 2 aspects we should be lookng for in a co-active context

  • Awareness - Information we receive in what we hear with our ears and also what we sense when listening to someone, e.g. the pace, the tone, the volume of the conversation, how certain words are spoken. "We listen not only to the person, but simultaneously, to everything else this happening in the environment.
  • Impact - The effect we have on someone when we listen to what they are saying. "To be an effective listener, you need to be conscious not only of what you are listening to, but also the impact you have when you act on your awareness.... Your listening is hyperconscious and subconscious at the same time". 

I used to work with a guy called Shayne, who outside work coached people in sport and was a leader in the Scouts.  When you spoke to Shane you came away feeling that you had been truly listened to and he understood what you had said and why it was so important to you. It was like he had put is arm around you, stopped the clocks and said "Ok, I'm listening".  It was honestly an amazing feeling and has stayed with me as an example of how to listen.

In the training we discussed that there are in fact 3 levels of listening:

3 Levels of Listening

Level 1 Internal Listening - "What does this mean to me?"

Here we focus on ourselves, our attention is on what their words mean to us personally. It is all about my thoughts, my judgements, my feelings. As the other partner in the conversation you know when someone is at Level 1 listening by how they act, what they say and what they don't say. We've all been in conversations where you feel that you may as well have been talking to a wall as you got nothing back from them.


Level 2 Focused Listening - "Where did that time go?"

At Level 2 there is sharp focus on the other person and there is not much awareness of the outside world. It is like the conversation is happening in a world of it's own, only later you realise that it has suddenly got darker/colder/busier - it hasn't happened suddenly - you've just been focused so much on the words of the other person, that you haven't thought about how it is effecting you or the world that you're in. You will hear the pause and the crack in the voice as they recall something in a memory that they don't tell you about. However, you know that they have just thought of something very powerful and as coach do you ask what it was or wait for another opportunity?  

"You listen for their words, their expressions, their emotions. You notice what they say, how they say it."    


Level 3 Global Listening - "I can sense everything that is going on"

At Level 3 listening is laser focused; you sense everything that is going on in the conversation, in the room; what can you hear and sense?  You can read the room.

Listening at Level 3 you receive information that is not directly observable your intuition comes into play more. With this information, you can use it to ask questions and then notice the impact it has. At Level 3, this is where you as coach make the biggest impact. This is where you can identify what the client really wants to talk about, even if they don't realise it yet. 

When listening you will jump between the different levels, and when you do, recognise that you've done it and quickly move back to level 2 or level 3. 


The Importance of listening to Scrum Masters

Listening is one of the key skills that a Scrum Master should practice - it is very easy for us to be seen as the mouthpiece, but we should also be comfortable with silence and 

Listening is the entry point for coaching. In one sense, all the other contexts depend on listening at level 2 and 3. Listening, then , is the gateway through which all the coaching passes.

Thanks for Listening / Reading.

Based upon - Co-Active Coaching 


My offer to you....

If you attend one of my courses, I'd like to offer you a complementary coaching session with me - so that you can experience a Co-Activce coaching session.  Course details can be found at 

If you can't see a course that you'd like to attend please have a look at my profile page to see the courses I can deliver - it could be that you've just missed the course that you're interested in -  

More details on the coaching can be found at

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