What Kind of Listener Are You?

Stephen Covey says it best: “ ‘Seek first to understand’ involves a very deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak … They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people’s lives.”

Man listen carefullyThere are several types of communication that you use on a daily basis. While many understand the importance of the spoken word, and may have even practiced how to improve their message, most people have not learned how to listen.

There are five main types of listeners:

Pretend listeners: These listeners appear to listen and possibly even nod appropriately, but their mind is far, far away. They probably couldn’t begin to answer a question with anything other than a “Yes” or “No.”

Selective listeners: These listeners only tune in when you bring up a point that truly interests them or possibly when your intonation varies enough to draw their attention to what you are saying.

Attentive listeners: These listeners concentrate on what you’re saying but haven’t learned to put aside their own needs. They focus on their response based on their own life experiences.

Interactive listeners: These listeners are attentive and make the effort to ask clarifying questions. They also take the time to paraphrase for better understanding. However, like the attentive listener, they are still unable to put aside personal needs and experiences in order to truly listen.

Empathetic listeners: These listeners have perfected the art of listening. They put aside their own personal needs to focus on the speaker so that they can truly “hear” what the person is saying. They are attentive and interactive, while listening through the speaker’s life rather than their own.

flapping earsHere’s a quick and easy exercise to help you identify what kind of listener you are and the differences between the listener types. Choose a partner and assign the roles of speaker and listener. The speaker’s role is to describe to the listener a challenging experience that he/she has had at work. The listener’s job is to assume the role of one of the types of listeners. Next, repeat the exercise but have the listener assume a different listening type. Discuss how the conversation changed based on the listening type.

By learning how to become a better listener, you can better learn how to manage your interactions with others to improve your results.

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