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What Are the Four Listening Styles?


Tue Aug 10 2021

What Are the Four Listening Styles?

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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.

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