Listening and Thinking:
Whats Your Style?
Practitioners who determine their personal listening style can become
better listeners and thinkers. Listening styles are grouped into five
categories, according to Edward Dvorak, president of ECD Associates.
Just because a person isnt talking doesnt mean she is
listening. She may be preparing her response or daydreaming.
Listening is not easy. Listening effectively requires concentration
A good listener is appreciated by friends, family, and business associates.
Good listeners make good friends; the best therapists are the best
listeners; so are effective managers. People love a good listener,
a receptive audience. Through your listening efforts you gain more
than respect. You also gain insight into other people. You can learn
about the world and about yourself.
Edward Dvorak, president of ECD Associates was interviewed for ADVANCE
regarding the five listening styles. He categories listening styles
into appreciative, empathic, comprehensive, discerning or evaluative
Appreciative listeners generally listen for pleasure to balance their
work and social lives. They look for easy listening and tend to become
disenchanted if there's no amusement or humor in what they're listening
to, which may prompt them to retreat.
The empathic listener tunes into the speaker's emotions and focuses
on body language, presentation media and how people react. They find
it easy to relate to a speaker's feelings, and they recognize what
the speaker sees. These active listeners look at the interpersonal
presentation as well as what is said.
Comprehensive listeners are interested in specific thoughts and actions.
They wait until they have all the information before expressing opinions
or thoughts. They like to relate messages to their own experiences
and try to determine the rationale of the speaker's argument. They
want logical presentations that progress without interruption.
Discerning listeners determine the main message and try to identify
with the speaker. They take copious notes and work hard to concentrate
on what the speaker says. They are good listeners and like information
that flows evenly.
Evaluative listeners probably make up the toughest audience in a
technical environment, Dvorak said. They listen analytically, all
the while formulating arguments or challenges to what the speaker
is saying. When preparing arguments during a presentation, they may
tune out the speaker and miss data. Thus, they tend to ask a lot of
questions and can become somewhat interruptive. If they receive too
much illogical information, they generally leave.
After practitioners determine their listening style and identify
which styles are appropriate for certain situations, they can begin
to explore new techniques to improve their listening and become critical
"You need to determine the driver of your thoughts," Dvorak
said. "There are certain types of thinking, right and left brain.
The challenge is to use both sides." Those who have the ability
to think with the greatest amount of resources have developed both
sides of their brains, he said. "As a result, they will be able
to create more ideas and solve a variety of problems."
Certain techniques help to increase thinking skills, which are either
lateral or vertical, Dvorak explained. Most people working in a technical
environment employ vertical thinking. They prioritize things from
the base to the solution, building one step on another, by considering
only appropriate information.
In contrast, lateral thinkers consider things that are achieved across
a wide variety of thinking to reach their goal.
The goal of the individuals will determine the type of thinking and
listening they want. Lateral thinking or brainstorming will help practitioners
to create new ideas or incorporate better methods into their services.
The process is made more successful by adjusting listening style to
complement a thinking method.
Edward Dvorak states that "while people may lean toward one
listening style, we generally have a combination of two or three."
Listening styles are not determined by genetic or environmental influence,
but by satisfaction achieved over the years, he noted.
Regardless of individual style, the goal is to become a better listener
Dvorak said, "You have to work on it; but when you identify your
listening style and skills, you open up an awareness you never thought
about before." People should consider in what situations their
listening style would be most effective and how they can improve it.
To be a good listener, you must decide to listen. Once you are clear
about it, you can use the following techniques to be a more effective
listener. These ideas are especially useful in times of high emotional
Much of listening is nonverbal. Here are five guidelines for effective
1. Be quiet. Silence is more than staying quiet
or not interrupting while someone is speaking. Pausing for several
seconds before you start to talk allows the speaker to catch her breath
or gather her thoughts. She may want to continue.
If the message is complete, this short break gives you time to form
your response and helps you avoid the biggest barrier to listeninglistening
with your answer running. If you make up a response before the person
is finished, you miss the end of the message which often contains
the main point.
2. Maintain eye contact. Look at the other person
while she speaks. It demonstrates your attention and it helps keep
your mind from wandering. Your eyes also let you "listen"
to body language and behavior. When some of us remove our glasses,
we not only cant see, we can't hear!
3. Display openness. You can communicate openness by
your facial expression and body position. Uncross your arms and legs.
Sit up straight. Face the other person and remove any physical barriers,
such as a pile of books.
4. Listen without response. This doesnt mean
never respond. It means wait. When listening to another person, we
often interrupt with our opinions, suggestions, and inappropriate
"Oh, I'm so excited. I just found out that I am nominated to
be in Who's Who in American Musicians." "Yeah, that's
neat. My uncle Elmer got into Who's Who in American Veterinarians.
Watch your nonverbal response, too. A look of "Good grief!"
from you can keep the other person from finishing her message.
5. Send acknowledgment. Periodically, in the midst
of so much nonverbal listening, it is important to let the speaker
know you are still there. Your words or nonverbal gestures of acknowledgment
let the speaker know you are interested and that you are with her
and her message. These include "Umhum," "OK,"
"yes," and head nods.
These acknowledgments do not imply your agreement. If someone tells
you what they dont like about you, your head nod doesnt
mean you agree. It just indicates that you are listening.
Sometimes it is necessary to speak to facilitate listening.
1. Feed back meaning. Paraphrase the communication.
Do not just parrot what they said. Briefly summarize. Feed back the
essence of what you think the other person said. "Let me see
if I got what you said. . ."or, "What Im hearing you
say is. . . " Often the other person will say, "No, that's
not what I meant. What I said was. . . "
There will be no doubt when you get it right. The sender will say,
"Yeah, . that's it," and will either continue with another
message or stop sending it because he knows you understand.
If you dont understand the message, be persistent. Ask the
person to please repeat what he said and paraphrase it again. Effective
communication involves a feedback loop.
Be concise. This is not a time to stop the other person by talking
on and on about what you think you heard.
2. Listen beyond words. Be aware of nonverbal messages
and behavior. You may notice and comment that the speaker's body language
is screaming the exact opposite of her words. For example, "I
noticed you said you are excited, but you look very bored."
3. Take care of yourself. People seek out good listeners,
and there are times when you dont want to listen. You may be
busy or distracted with your own concerns. Be honest. Dont pretend
to listen. You can say, "I dont have the time right now."
It's OK not to listen.
Listening is an art that must be practiced!
Portions of this article were written by Lisa A. Brzezicki
and were excerpted from ADVANCE for Speech-Language Pathologists
& Audiologists January 5, 1998.