Verbal communication is a critical skill in every organization, yet rarely do we think beyond the speaking half of what we call communication. Fact is, listening is equally important for effective communication and it is neglected on factory floors as well as in office cubicles, meeting rooms, C-suites, and board rooms. It’s time to raise our listening intelligence.
Many of us fail to provide speakers with the opportunity to fully express themselves—giving them our undivided attention so they feel heard and understood. Listening needs to be more active and more intentional to be truly effective.
According to SIS International Research, 70 percent of small to mid-size businesses claim that ineffective communication is their primary problem. And a business with 100 employees spends an average downtime of 17.5 hours per week clarifying communication, which translates to an annual cost of $524,569.
Listening is a huge component of this since on average we retain just 25% of what we hear due to busyness and lack of effective listening skills.
Cognitive researchers have learned that individuals interpret what they hear based on habits learned over a lifetime. We can all be better listeners, yet there are no “good” or “bad” listeners, just different ways listeners interpret, value and categorize what they hear.
Different people habitually listen to and for different types of information. Once you become aware of your own filters, you can then examine blind spots and start listening for and recognizing an expanded range of input. You can also watch for and speak into other people’s listening preferences to enhance overall communication. This greater awareness and ability is called Listening Intelligence.
The ECHO Listening Profile identifies four styles of listening: connective, reflective, analytical, and conceptual. No one style is better than another, but we all have a preference for one over the others and each style has benefits and drawbacks.
As I wrote in a previous post, connective listening filters what you hear through interests in other people, groups, processes and audiences. This type of listening demonstrates support and empathy, seeks out feelings behind the facts, and orients oneself toward others. On the flip side, these connective listeners may accept information at face value, sacrifice facts and data, and be ruled by emotions.
Reflective listeners filter what they hear through their own interests and purposes. They are able to evaluate what they hear based on direct application, reflect on personal meaning, and easily discard non-useful information. On the other hand, they may miss potential applications, be overly introspective and ignore the meaning for others.
The analytical listener focuses on what the interaction means to an issue or objective situation. For them it’s about results and facts. They are able to critique information for decision-making, listen for the facts beyond the emotions, and are able to control for biases and attitudes. However, they may discard information that could be useful, miss out on others’ feelings, and could shut off complete interactions.
Conceptual listeners are those who focus on ideas and the big picture. Their interest is in concepts and possibilities. They are able to use the information they hear to stimulate ideas, connect ideas together, and understand multiple meanings in messages. Alternatively, they can miss the trees for the forest, lack focus on the present situation, and may read more into the message than is intended.
As you can see, each listening preference has its benefits and drawbacks. Regardless of where you score, it’s important to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of this particular style. It’s equally important to recognize and understand how well those you interact with are able to listen to you.
Listening intelligence will improve your ability to understand others and enhance overall communication. By focusing on listening, you will become more engaged and therefore more effective in the workplace.