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Professional Corner

Listening and Thinking:
What’s 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 isn’t talking doesn’t mean she is listening. She may be preparing her response or daydreaming.

Listening is not easy. Listening effectively requires concentration and energy.

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 listeners.

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 thinkers.

"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 tension.

Nonverbal listening

Much of listening is nonverbal. Here are five guidelines for effective nonverbal listening.

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 listening—listening 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 can’t 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 doesn’t mean never respond. It means wait. When listening to another person, we often interrupt with our opinions, suggestions, and inappropriate comments.

"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 don’t like about you, your head nod doesn’t mean you agree. It just indicates that you are listening.

Verbal 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 I’m 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 don’t 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 don’t want to listen. You may be busy or distracted with your own concerns. Be honest. Don’t pretend to listen. You can say, "I don’t 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.

Julie Loe

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Last modified: January 26, 2013