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Not long ago, I participated in a very interesting learning session led by Dana Dupuis of Mandel Communications. Dana stated that listening is recognized as essential to successful communication and that excellent listening skills are more vital today than ever (both at work and in our personal lives). Unfortunately, listening tends to be a neglected communication skill and one that is not nearly strong enough for sustained individual, team, and organizational performance. For example, listening misconceptions and mistakes create negative consequences in business every day, compromising myriad areas, such as innovation, team effectiveness, employee engagement, productivity, sales activities, customer loyalty, and safety.

It is important to understand that the way we listen impacts our thinking, that our thinking impacts how we talk, and that how we like to share information is the (same) way we like to hear it. Listening is a brain-based (cognitive) activity and no two brains are the same. Different people hear things in their own particular way. That is why ten highly competent people can leave a meeting, yet have widely varying impressions and remembrances of what they just heard. Interestingly, our brains can take in (process) over 500 words per minute, yet we speak only about 125-150 words per minute. This means that we only use approximately 25% of our brain’s processing power due to the slowness of the talk-time. The result is that the “un-engaged” 75% of our brain can wreak havoc thinking about other things…which pulls us away from listening.

To address this challenge, we need to improve our “listening intelligence,” defined as an individual’s ability to understand their own listening habits, recognize the listening habits of others, and adapt their communication to achieve a constructive outcome. One way to do this is to familiarize ourselves with the Four Listening Styles that Mandel espouses:

  1. Connective Listening: 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.
  2. Reflective Listening: 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.
  3. Analytical Listening: 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.
  4. Conceptual Listening: 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.

People don’t have a single, exclusive listening style, but a combination of the four listening styles (or “listening habits”), and knowing the four listening styles can help a person understand how we all pick up differing yet important information.

Dana went on to explain that once you understand the four listening styles, you can work on identifying your own listening habits and improvement needs, engaging with the needs of others, adjusting your “listening lens,” and navigating toward a constructive outcome. All very sensible and actionable suggestions.

Listening has never been more important, or more prone to error, especially in our current, more virtual environment. So, whether you want to improve collaboration across teams and departments, reduce the time spent in meetings, inspire more effective conflict resolution, or connect with others at a deeper level, I challenge you to explore listening in a way that you never have before.