Next Level Listening — a toolbox for observing extra-verbal behavior

Next Level Listening is a toolkit synthesized from communication theory, non-verbal communications training, and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). When used in a traditional ICF certified coaching context these tools add depth and insight to coaching conversations, allowing the coach to reflect back observations that create new awareness and finer distinctions about non-verbal behavior.

Try these tools to start “hearing” more information.

NLP is described as the study and modeling of excellence — observing individuals who have experienced success and identifying how they use their winning life strategies. If an aspect of life isn’t working, it is because something about the strategy being used to handle that part of life needs to be surfaced, understood, and redefined to be useful. Improving the strategy for dealing with a specific aspect of life alters the outcome of everything that follows.

All our life strategies are operating below the threshold of consciousness and can be brought forward by a trained coach so they can be seen, heard, felt, and then fine-tuned for success.

Hearing and Coaching at the Subconscious Level

By building an awareness of the signals, metaphors, symbols, and signs of subconscious communication, we can move to a new way of thinking about ourselves and begin to change the way we interact in the world.

For people who are stuck there is usually a blind spot in their own behavior. Procrastination is a classic example of a behavior that exists in the habit-holding part of the brain and is outside of conscious awareness. If clients are berating themselves over procrastination and know it is working against their stated goals, then they are engaged in the struggle between conscious and unconscious behavior choices. They may even have had full conversations with themselves about what they are doing and what they want to be doing, but aren’t.

Integrating Next Level Listening into the coaching conversation

Being in a listening profession such as counseling, therapy, or coaching requires being present with clients. Coaches pay attention to client’s stories and metaphors while working with them toward a common goal for each session.

What are we “Next Level Listening” to?

Lots of clues in non-verbal behavior are familiar to professional coaches. In this article I address the Ten Tune-Ins of Next Level Listening, explain the model and provide some instruction on putting it into practice.

The Ten Tune-Ins of Next Level Listening:

  1. Listening for Conceptual Representations as expressed in language (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Digital)
  2. Recognizing Sentences Have Deeper Meanings and becoming curious for more detail
  3. Curiously recognizing the way a person’s eyes move when composing an idea that is being expressed (Eye-Accessing Cues)
  4. Recognizing inconsistent verbal and non-verbal expressions -like saying “yes” and nodding “no,” for example (Incongruence)
  5. Identifying vocal tonalities and onomatopoeia — Sighs, noises, animal impersonations with an emotional sound that seems to give the sound a meaning — like “happy,” “disappointed” or “exhausted” sighs or tonalities.
  6. Non-Verbal Gestures — gestures that accompany verbal expressions that indicate meaning
  7. Spotting concepts or processes that have been “fixed” into a single word. Words like Liberty, Freedom, Relationship are examples. (Nominalizations)
  8. Noticing negation — expressing ideas using negative words like un-, not, and but.
  9. Observing ultimatums or exaggerative language: always, never, everyone, nobody, ever, forever, all, none, absolutely
  10. Spotting “Impoverished Representations” — when a mental concept is missing entire representational aspects and the missing piece is needed to make a change or create a transformation of meaning.

This article is continued on my blog and provides a deeper exploration of the ten tune-ins of Next Level Listening. Follow the links in this article or come visit at

Timothy Thomas is an ICF Associate Certified Coach, NLP Master Practitioner and SEO Consultant offering corporate training, public speaking, and private practice transformational coaching in Seattle and San Francisco. He is the creator of Next Level Listening and Coaching For Coders.