What is Your Listening Style?

headphonesStrange question? Maybe. Few people actually think about the style they adopt when they are listening to another person. But there is value in doing so, and I’d like to share some ideas that may help your communications in the future. The listening styles described here were developed by James Weaver, Kittie Watson and Larry Barker. After each style, I have listed a few typical features of each. The Listening Styles People

  • concerned for the other person’s feelings
  • looking for interests in common with the other
  • likely to become engrossed in the other person’s problems


  • want accurate, brief, concise statements
  • get impatient with disorganized communication
  • prone to finishing the thought of the other person


  • want to hear all the facts so can carefully make their own judgments and form their own opinions
  • want complete facts, data and evidence so they can evaluate them
  • like to solve complicated puzzles with complex pieces


  • prefer short, speedy, swift interactions
  • will often tell others how much time they have to meet
  • if time feels pressing, or the other is taking too much time, may interrupt or look at their watch

One problem with listening styles is that people use them out of habit, rather than choice. Even when another style would be more appropriate for the situation, they may stick with their dominant style. They do not adapt the style to the situation. So mismatches happen all the time. Each of these styles is appropriate for certain situations. None of them are right or wrong in themselves. Mismatches are the problem and part of being a good communicator is being able to adapt your listening style to the situation. Just being aware of the four listening styles can give you, in the future, a greater ability to adapt and a better understanding of communication problems you encounter. Once you and others are aware of the styles, you may choose to look at the purpose of each interaction and decide with them what listening style(s) will be best for the purpose of the interaction. Here are some tips for how to adapt your style: 1) When you want to establish rapport with someone, match their listening style. 2) Before you go to a meeting with someone, decide on the appropriate style then be willing to adapt. What is your goal for the interaction? Relating to the person? Getting something done? Gathering complete information? Conserving time? Obviously you may have more than one. Looking at the goal in advance helps the interaction and prevents mismatches and miscommunication. 3) Make it a habit to, at least once during an interaction, assess your style and the style(s) of the others with whom you are interacting. 4) When a mismatch is occurring, talk with the other person/people about what the needs are for the interaction and then use the listening style(s) to match the needs.   For example, if you need to get something done quickly and someone is talking about their weekend, tell them time is important to you right then and listen to what they need from the interaction. Play with these styles for a week. Note that, in the beginning, people often confuse Time Style with Action Style but they are different. With one the goal or purpose is action (“let’s get to what needs to be done here”); with the other, the person is attending to time (“don’t take up too much of my time”). If you get these styles right, you’ll be amazed at the difference it will make to your communications. Thanks again Sean Sean McPheat Managing Director

MTD Training   | Image courtesy by zirconicusso of FreeDigitalPhotos.Net

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Updated on: 1 September, 2011

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