8 Modes of Listening

We all know that listening is important to any relationship. Of course, we have different ways of listening in various situations. What’s interesting is that how we listen impacts a relationship.  We listen to:

  • Build – understand what another is saying in order to help expand thinking; to build on it.  Listen for connections to what you know and how that may help.
  • Judge and Find Flaws – assess the accuracy or worthiness of what you hear and find flaws, and even opportunities to nitpick.  Listen for what’s wrong or incorrect.
  • Absorb/Learn – to gain new information and sometimes fit it immediately into our personal view of the world.  Other times we listen to gather information without simultaneously fitting it into what we already know.
  • Solve – to find solutions.  Listen for what makes this issue meaningful to the speaker, and how your insight might solve the issue.
  • Sympathize – provide comfort and presence. Listen and respond with full support, certainly no judgment.
  • Forensic – deep listening, mustering all your senses — deep focus on words, tones and non-verbals.
  • Understand/Empathize – share in another’s emotions, viewing from their point of view.  The key here is to keep your own self intact.  There’s a duality here – feeling another’s emotional state while maintaining your sense of self.
  • Manage a situation – we feel we’re at risk and listen for ways to keep ourselves safe.  Be aware that when we’re in this mode, our emotions are high and consequently, our hearing is low (inversely proportional).  We are likely to miss a lot of what’s being said or misinterpret what we’re hearing.

In business relationships, we often default to two styles: judging and safekeeping.  In business we want to stay on track (need to make sure something’s right, identify mistakes, etc.), so we are critical of what we hear.  In Judge mode, we’re likely to miss information because our mind is busy analyzing what we’re hearing, why we think it’s wrong, and listing our points for correcting or rebutting.  We think we’re listening, but we’re really moving in and out of listening.  You may find yourself saying things like, “Oh, I didn’t hear that part.”  Or, “Could you repeat that again?”  Listening to find flaws is very useful, but many people fall into the trap of using the Judge mode as their default.

Likewise, when we are feeling unsure of our situation (performance review/feedback, meeting someone for the first time – interview, new business prospect, etc.), we listen to manage the situation.  Our internal voice says things like, “Can I find a way to impress this person?”  Or, “Where is this going?”

Our mind works much faster than anyone can speak.  Our internal voice activity level varies with each listening mode.  Clearly, the type of listening we use shapes what we hear because we’re listening for different things.  Being aware of the mode we are in makes a profound difference in what we hear.  Each mode focuses our mind on different details and thus we hear different things – even though we thought we were listening and heard everything.  Further, we readily shift from one mode to another with little to no conscious awareness of the shift.

Likewise, the speaker can sense the mode you’re in.  Haven’t we all sensed it when someone’s judging us as they listen?  It usually affects how and what we say because it raises our emotions; we start to pick our words carefully.  Likewise, haven’t you sensed when someone is listening to absorb what you’re saying?  We don’t feel defensive, and our words flow readily.

Two pieces of advice:  1. When you present something to someone, ask him or her to use the mode you think is appropriate to your presentation.  “I’m know this still needs work, so I’d like you to listen to build this further.”  Or, “I’m thinking this is ready for our client, so please focus on finding flaws.”  2.  Try to pay conscious attention to how you’re listening – it not only impact what you hear, it actually impacts what is being said to you.

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