We’ve all heard about the importance of becoming better listeners. The idea of being a good or active listener is often cited as a fundamental component of effective marketing, sales, or leadership. At the same time, there isn't usually much detailed information about what this actually means. What is listening, exactly? How can we actually become better listeners and why should we set such a goal?
The Importance of Listening
Listening is crucial for the success of any team or organization. Whether you're communicating with customers, team members, or other stakeholders, you need to be aware of the other person's thoughts, feelings, and needs. According to recent research, effective communication allows companies to perform three times better than their competitors.
Salespeople and customer support agents need strong listening skills when dealing with customers. When you listen to customers, they feel appreciated and are more likely to forgive mistakes. On the other hand, overlooking or misunderstanding people's needs is a fast way to lose a customer.
Customers today are quite vocal about their experiences with businesses. Customer reviews can play a major role in a company's reputation. Listening well is a crucial skill when it comes to building a solid reputation in your community and online.
Managers must be able to listen to the employees they supervise to assess their needs and challenges and bring out the best in them.
Listening is essential for better teamwork to ensure projects proceed smoothly. Everyone on a team should feel that his or her views are heard and taken seriously.
There are Several Types of Listening
We often talk about listening as a single practice—the term “Active Listening,” is most commonly cited for this—but there are actually many ways to listen. Recently, researchers have identified several major types of listening, each with its own characteristic benefits and potential challenges. Additionally, it turns out that our listening patterns and preferences are based upon habits, rather than hardwired traits. One way to measure these habits is through the ECHO Listening Profile, a cognitively-based, statistically reliable survey that identifies your personal listening preference. The model is based upon four types of listening, but every person uses those four types of listening in different combinations and to varying degrees.
Those who are highly Connective in their listening are mainly concerned about what a conversation or interaction means for others. If you prioritize this type of listening, you have a great deal of concern for how information affects the people around you. You don't only focus on the meaning of words; you notice the way people react emotionally. This makes you quite sensitive, empathetic, and attuned to others' feelings. A Connective Listener’s greatest strength is making the people around them feel that their views are heard and carefully considered. At the same time, this type of listener can sometimes lack objectivity. He or she may be more influenced by who is saying something rather than the actual meaning of the words.
While Connective Listeners focus on others, Reflective Listeners mainly consult their own inner source of knowledge and experience to process what they are hearing. If you use this type of listening, you probably give a great deal of thought to a topic before you provide your own feedback. You also tend to have a great deal of confidence in your own judgment. Because this listening style is so internally focused, others might not see you as completely open and forthcoming with your views. Reflective Listeners also may focus mainly on ideas that are of immediate concern to themselves and not pay as much attention to broader applications.
Analytical Listeners are all about facts and data. They are masters at processing quantitative information and prefer demonstrable results to conjecture. If you are dominant in this this listening style, you're good at separating accurate information from wishful thinking. Every organization needs this type of listening to keep strategies rooted in practical reality. On the other hand, people with this listening style can be so focused on the practical that they may resist experimentation. They may also not pick up on emotional cues from others.
Conceptual Listeners are creative types who are gifted at coming up with new ideas. If you are strong in this type of listening, you are adept at taking in facts and ideas and making new connections that others wouldn't see. This is a great listening style for innovation, as Conceptual Listeners are often able to come up with breakthrough ideas and solve problems in novel ways. The challenge for this type of listener is that they may not always be diligent about following through on ideas and may tend to jump from one possibility to another. They also may not have a great deal of patience with conversations that focus on too many details.
Are There "Good" and "Bad" Listeners?
The notion of good and bad listeners is overly simplistic and doesn't take into account the fact that there are several distinct styles of listening. Without this knowledge, it's easy to label people with different styles from your own as "bad" or poor listeners. Each listening style brings distinct benefits to a team or organization.
As mentioned above, it is important to realize that listening is a habit rather than a fixed, hard-wired trait. Being aware of your own listening habits can help you appreciate the strengths you bring to every situation, as well as any potential blind spots you might want to become aware of. Since no one style of listening is “better” than another, you don't have to change your habitual style, but you can make adjustments if you notice that you are exhibiting some of the challenges of that style. Understanding that people differ in how they listen also gives you an appreciation for styles of listening that differ from your own. If everyone on a team or within a company listened the same way, this would actually be quite limiting.
For example, a department full of Analytical Listeners might be great with big data and technical problem solving, but might not be very innovative about the “big picture.” Conceptual Listeners on their own, meanwhile, might have lots of great ideas, but may not take the time to study the data before moving forward. Ideally, you want a well-rounded mixture of Connective, Reflective, Analytical, and Conceptual Listening on your team.
Listening is a Dynamic Process
So - what is listening? There's no simple answer as listening involves many different behaviors and habits. But we can start by understanding the four fundamental styles of listening, then gain a sense of our own preferences based on those four. Additionally, we can begin to identify the listening styles of the people around us and then adjust how we share information so they can more easily process and understand its value based on their own listening preferences.
Want to find out what your listening profile is? You could have one of 41 different profiles! Take the ECHO Listening Assessment today!