When people sit in a chair and listen to you for thirty minutes or three hours…  what keeps them in that chair?

It’s never wise to assume or take for granted that people are listening as you talk. As a communicator, it’s always good to remember that people have a choice about whether or not they will continue listening to you over time.

Chris Huff, long time colleague and friend on staff at 12Stone® Church, gave me a great idea about how to address this subject in 5 levels. In fact, it’s connected to my mentor and friend John Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership, but with a twist from leadership to communication.

So what if we integrate the levels of influence with communication? Then use that as a tool to assess, and intentionally become a better communicator.

This works for both personal and platform communication.

Let’s jump in, and keep in mind that each of these levels build on the last; they do not stand on their own.

John C. Maxwell

John C. Maxwell

Level 1 – People listen to you because they have to.

We’ve all known a teacher or professor that the only reason we continued to listen is because we had to. Or perhaps you’ve had a boss at work, and the only reason you listened was because you had no choice.

This also takes place with church leaders, and pastors in particular. Perhaps you are new to the church, or new to a position and you are now in charge. You have a title so people need to listen to you.

If you are in your early twenties, and have little experience, it’s almost impossible to be a highly skilled communicator yet. That’s understandable and people will grant you some time, but you can’t stay at that level for long.

The key skill to develop is your ability to connect with those you talk to. Be real, be yourself, and speak from your heart to their heart. (Rather than from your head to their head.) Rise above your fears and insecurities in order to put the needs of people before your own.

Level 2 – People listen to you because they want to.

When you learn to genuinely connect with people as you speak, they listen to you because they like you, and they want to hear what you have to say. They trust you, and you bring a sense of encouragement to their lives. At this level you are learning to use humor and inspiration as communication skills. The people may not actually be better, but you do help them feel better and that’s a good start.

The key skill to develop is credibility. In order for people to move from liking you to respecting you as a communicator, you must learn to make things happen. As a communicator the primary skill required here is the ability to cast a compelling vision. This is the beginning of truly moving people.

Level 3 – People listen to you because you are good at what you do.

When you learn to inspire people to action, whether in a one to one setting, or from the stage, you are becoming a master communicator. You are beginning to move from helping people to feel better, to helping people take steps toward change. For example, it’s much easier to give a talk that helps people understand and agree with a principle like generosity, than it is to inspire people to actually give of their financial resources to Kingdom work.

This is a great place to be as a communicator, but it lacks something that the very best communicator’s practice.

The key skill to develop is how to let people know you want more for them than from them. No doubt that’s been your heart from the beginning, but it doesn’t necessarily always come across that way. It’s not just about helping the church grow which is a great endeavor; after all, it’s God’s church. But as a communicator matures, the emphasis becomes about helping the people grow more than helping the church grow. That’s a tough transition for most of us to make.

Level 4 – People listen to you because of the value you add to their life.

This is where communicating becomes a true art form and requires great preparation and effort. Most communicators can add value to their listeners here and there, but few can do it consistently time after time. At this level you not only have included connection, encouragement, humor, inspiration, and credibility, but you now begin to consistently add insightful content that is truly transforming in a life-changing way. You are consistently making a difference personally for those who listen to you.

Communication is kind of like a golf swing, there are so many elements to a great swing, and if you have to think of each one during a stroke, it just doesn’t work. It becomes mechanical, not natural and you send the ball into the trees. But for the pro golfer who incorporates the full swing naturally, the ball just sails on to its intended mark.

The key skill to develop is consistency.

Level 5 – People listen to you because of who you are.

The difference between level 4 and level 5 is that you have done level 4 for a very long time! Like a Bill Hybels, John Maxwell or Kevin Myers who have done this for decades… You have invested in people’s lives for so long, and consistently added value. With the help of God’s favor and power, you have inspired lasting transformation by what you say and how you say it, so that now people listen out of gratitude and respect for who you are.


So, where are you in the levels of communication?

What is the next step for you to improve?


Here’s a tip. Get a copy of John’s book The 5 Levels of Leadership and read it to learn communication!