ATD Blog

What Are the Four Listening Styles?

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

With corporate teams working virtually, face-to-face, and in hybrid situations, communication skills are more crucial to organizational success than ever. In this environment, we’re observing the dramatic impact that listening plays in terms of information sharing, productivity, and rework.

We now know that listening is individualized. Each of us listening to a speaker or presentation picks up slightly different or completely different information. This has significant consequences, given that information sharing is the basis for all workflow.

As part of our research into listening intelligence, we’ve learned that we hear with our ears but make sense of what we hear and decide what to focus on with our brain. No two brains are alike; therefore, no two employees listen the same. We’ve detected four distinct styles (or preferences) of how people listen. These four styles cover what individuals pay attention to, as well as what they are likely to miss in any collaboration. Each of the four preferences has associated strengths and challenges. Let’s take a look at them:

1) Connective listening focuses 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.

In a meeting, the connective listener is likely to notice how others are paying attention and reacting to the information being shared rather than considering the impact it may have on them personally. They may even go as far as to ask a question on behalf of someone else.

2) Reflective listening focuses on processing information internally, with a strong reliance on the listener’s own judgment rather than the advice of others.


In a meeting, the reflective listener may be silent, processing all the angles of what they hear. At the end of the meeting, they might say with authority, “This idea will work; that one won’t work; we will do it this way,” and not share all the reasoning that helped them arrive at their conclusion, possibly leaving others confused.

3) Analytical listening focuses on facts, data, and measurable information. Individuals with this listening style discern incoming information for its accuracy and direct applicability to the problem or situation at hand, often expressing little interest in the opinions, ideas, or inspirations of others.

In a meeting, the analytical listener adds a “reality check” to the rest of the team. During brainstorming, they will review the information presented for accuracy, weed out the impractical, identify what’s feasible, and recommend the best processes for implementation.


4) Conceptual listening focuses on brainstorming and idea generation. Individuals with this listening style love listening to and collaborating about ideas set in the future with eyes and ears trained on what “could be,” preferring high-level thinking over detailed minutiae.

In a meeting, the conceptual listener is often the creative fuel encouraging people to think outside the box. If an idea does not work, they embrace this failure because it invites new opportunities for more brainstorming.

Now that you’re familiar with the four listening styles, you can see that we all pick up differing yet important information while communicating. Interestingly, every employee in an organization has not one exclusive listening style but a combination of the four listening styles (or “listening habits”).

When information is not heard consistently, the impact on a team or group of employees working together is significant. Now, there’s the added complexity of virtual and hybrid workforces. Fortunately, organizations can harness the power of listening intelligence by assessing the listening habits of its employees and then developing the listening skills of its people.

About the Author

A pioneer and expert in listening intelligence, Dana Dupuis has spent her career exploring corporate communication and interpersonal collaboration to understand their effects on organizational well-being. Early in her career, Dana began to see listening as an essential facet of healthy corporate communication.

Dana pursued her own research, partnering with neuroscientists, clinical psychologists, and communication professionals. From this research, Dana and her team developed a cognitive-based listening assessment which is scientifically grounded and statistically reliable. This assessment has broad application in helping organizations develop sales teams, improve management decision-making, and accelerate cultural on-boarding. Dana is a renowned speaker, presenter, and consultant.

As a key member of Mandel Communications’ executive team, she provides ongoing research into how listening serves management and leadership development. Dana is a member of The International Listening Association, where she speaks annually.

Twitter: @DanaDListening

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Great article! Is there a quiz I could take to better understand which one best fits me?
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This was an interesting and fun read. Yes, I did recognize myself in all of them. I imagine that different professions tend to prefer and use different styles which is also why we can get stuck. Training activities to get us comfortable with and value our non-preferred styles would help teams members improve their communication and the team be more creative. An additional element in team communication is speakers of multiple languages and how they are processing a non-native language.
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If you appear confident in yourself and in what you say, your chances of earning the trust of your listeners will be much higher. Be strong, smile broadly, and make eye contact with your audience to show that you are unafraid and know your material. Check the online personality generator tool, to find out similar personalities of yours.
Thanks Aliana, yes, speaking with confidence earns trust but does it mean your audience is interested and will listen? I like your suggestions AND I wonder if that is different than listening...
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