What are the Four Listening Styles?

The Four Listening Habits and Virtual Workforces

With remote workforces being the new normal, communication skills are more crucial to organizational success than ever.  It’s not surprising that conversation skills and team collaboration are particularly important capabilities for virtual teams. However,  we’re also observing the impact that listening is playing on both the well-being and productivity-level of virtual teams.

While listening is not a skill that most organizations have focused on developing, we now know that listening is a brain-based function, and like speaking, it’s individualized, and it can be developed.

As part of our research into listening intelligence, we’ve detected four distinct styles (or preferences) of how people listen. These four listening styles cover what individuals pay attention to as well as what they are likely to miss in any collaboration. Each of the four has an associated set of strengths and challenges. Let’s take a look at them:

  1. Connective Listening

  2. People with a Connective Listening style focus on what an interaction means for others. “Others” can mean the speaker, team members, employees, customers, or any stakeholders who might be affected by the interaction.

    They will tend to be very generous in their listening, often prioritizing the concerns of others. While this type of listener recognizes the importance of facts and data, it’s always with an interest of how that information will serve and support others.

    For example, in a meeting, someone with Connective Listening is likely to notice how others are paying attention and reacting to the information being shared rather than considering the impact it may have on them personally. They may even go as far as to ask a question on behalf of someone else.

    On the flip side, there can be challenges that accompany this style of listening. Due to the relational focus, this listener may be overly influenced by the speaker rather than the merits of the information being presented. They  may nod, make eye contact, and appear agreeable to a speaker regardless of how they feel about the information being shared. This isn’t done to deceive, but to establish connection.

  3. Reflective Listening

  4. People with a Reflective Listening style process information internally, filtering through past experiences and knowledge. They strongly rely on inner resources and tend to trust their own judgment more then they trust others.

    Reflective Listening brings a sense of expertise, depth and meaning to interactions. This type of listening helps groups stay grounded, on task, and in touch with the meaning, purpose or application behind whatever is being discussed.

    In a meeting someone with a preference for Reflective Listening may be silent, processing all the angles of what they hear. At the end of the meeting they might say with authority, “this idea will work, that one won’t work.” Not likely to re-hash all the reasoning to arrive at a conclusion, they can be very deliberate about making sure they know the outcome of something before sharing it.

    This type of listener may focus on information relevant to one’s immediate interests and may possibly miss the broad application. Further, they may be perceived as holding back or as disinterested in conversations or interactions, when, in actuality, they’re assessing the content against their own internal library of knowledge before offering their opinion.

  5. Analytical Listening

  6. People with an Analytical Listening style focus on facts, data, and measurable information. Individuals with this listening style aren’t comfortable with gray areas. They discern incoming information for its accuracy and direct applicability to the problem or situation at hand, often having little interest in opinions, ideas, or inspirations of others.

    This type of listener will not be swayed by the personality of the speaker, even if it’s the CEO of the company. They’ll ask questions like, “Where will we find the resources for that?”, and can be perceived as obstinate gatekeepers

    In a meeting the Analytical Listener adds a “reality check” to the rest of the team. During the brainstorming of ideas, they will review for accuracy of information presented, weed out the impractical, identify what’s feasible, and recommend the best processes for implementation. If interactions become emotional, vague or drift off topic, this style of listener will steer the conversation back to the essence of the issue.

    Always requesting information to be proven out with concrete facts, this type of listener may discard otherwise useful information simply because the immediate value isn’t recognizable. They may fail to pick up subtle cues and emotional undertones, leading others to perceive them as emotionally disconnected.

  7. Conceptual Listening

  8. People with a Conceptual Listening style focus on brainstorming and idea generation in a group. They love listening to and collaborating about  ideas that tend to be future-oriented, with eyes and ears trained on what “could be.” But even in the present, individuals with this listening style prefer high-level thinking over detailed minutiae.

    Conceptual Listening welcomes a diversity of perspectives and considerations simultaneously. This type of listener draws new connections, offers fresh insight, and highlights new angles on an issue that others may not have considered.

    In a meeting this type of Listener is often the creative fuel behind brainstorming, encouraging people to think outside the box. If an idea does not work, they can almost get excited about the failure because it invites new opportunities. They may not know how to get to their new goal, but they can set the strategic direction and get others behind them who will help with the details.

    One area to keep an eye on with Conceptual Listening is it can feed on the ideation of issues at length. Individuals with this listening style can sometimes fail to arrive at conclusions, and appear to others that they are spinning their wheels, or are “lost in the clouds.” At times, this type of listener might be perceived as being overly excited or ungrounded, moving from one thought to the next with no consideration of what it would take to accomplish what’s being suggested.

Listening Matters

Now that you have reviewed the four listening styles or preferences, you can see we all pick up differing yet important information. Imagine the impact that the listening styles of the people in your organization have on every conversation and team collaboration – whether it’s a high stakes meeting at the executive level, a sales engagement with clients, or internal cross functional information sharing?

Especially in our current environment of virtual teams, listening matters – as it directly impacts both employee well-being, and productivity.

Every employee in an organization has not one exclusive listening style, but a combination of the four listening styles (or “listening habits”). To learn more about listening intelligence, how to assess the listening habits of your employees, and how to develop the listening skills of the people within your organization, let’s talk

Picture of Dana Dupuis

Dana Dupuis

As Executive Director, Research & Development, Listening Science, Dana is responsible for leading Mandel’s Listening Science Practice. Dana brings a wealth of expertise in leadership development and communication to Mandel. A pioneer and expert in Listening Intelligence, she has spent her career exploring corporate communication and interpersonal collaboration to understand their effects on organizational well-being. Dana is a renowned speaker, presenter, and consultant. As a key member of Mandel’s executive team, she provides ongoing research into how listening serves management and leadership development. Dana is a member of The International Listening Association, where she speaks annually.
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