Listening is a skill most of us would notice dramatic benefits from improving. A great starting place is to pay attention to your own listening styles; in other words start listening to yourself.

Good listening is about emotional connectivity. If you wish to improve your listening – challenge your intent. Are you seeking to genuinely understand another person’s perspective, or are you simply going through the motions? That is really what these five styles represent.

Ignoring

In essence, you are not really listening at all. You have no intention of listening to what the other person is saying. At the extreme end of the scale, you might literally break eye contact, and even turn your back on the speaker. More commonly, you have switched off and are most likely thinking about how you can interrupt to disagree and get your own point across.

Pretending

You are still not really listening to the speaker, however you at least are trying not to show that. Possibly you are trying to avoid hurting their feelings. You will be deliberately nodding and making the occasional noise to suggest you are interested in what the other person is saying.

In my more cynical moments, I think people in business have had some exposure to listening training, but have not changed their intention and as a result have got much better at pretending to listen.

Selective

This is listening only for what you want to hear. People are really good at this – often without realising that this is what they are doing. We listen for a trigger word or phrase that is an opening to stress our own views – we listen for mistakes or flaws in an argument or we listen for something that supports our view.

Possibly more frightening is our ability to pre-programme our listening. We often second guess what we think someone is going to say; what we believe their intention is and anything that supports our view leaps out at us in the conversation.

Attentive

Finally we are starting to actually pay attention to what the other person is saying. We are noticing the content in much more detail; the words someone is using, the way they are saying them, where the emphasis is placed, the speed and tone of speech.

We may be nodding and grunting to show we are listening, but we will also repeat key messages we are hearing to check our understanding and demonstrate that we are really paying attention to what is being said.

Empathetic

Your intention is to totally understand what the other person is trying to communicate. You are suspending your own judgement and simply seeking information. You will ask questions to understand and clarify what you are hearing. You will not leap to conclusions about the first thing you hear, but ask probing questions to establish the speaker’s perspective. You will have reached the point where you recognise that this is about the speaker, not about you.

Sadly, most of us are not used to being listened to. In both our professional and personal relationships our most common daily experiences lie in the first three listening styles. If you doubt this, you are either very lucky in your relationships, or would benefit from some evidence to support my assertion. In my experience, when you start listening at an attentive and empathetic level, that evidence will become obvious. When you start really listening to people the response you get is frequently amazing.

Stephen R Covey probably puts this best when he says “If you really seek to understand, without hypocrisy and without guile, there will be times when you will be literally stunned with the pure knowledge and understanding that will flow to you from another human being”.

Prefer to watch a video about listening styles - click here