In the middle of a heated verbal exchange, one news commentator suddenly turned to the other and blurted out "are you really listening to what I’m saying, or are you just waiting for your turn to talk?" How many times have we felt like that in the middle of a discussion?

According to the International Listening Association, listening is not only the most important element in communication, it is the MOST UNDER-UTILIZED AND MOST MISUNDERSTOOD. For example, one recent study showed people spend 50% of their day listening in various capacities, 20% of the time talking/speaking, and 30% reading/writing. Yet, recent university studies show listening training is not required for students or businesses. For those students that take a basic required communication class, less than 7% of it is spent on listening. On the other hand, listening is consistently one of the top skills being sought for entry level positions in the business world.

People, for the most part, talk half as slow as people think. With this wide a difference in brain processing, the mind of the person who is listening is much more prone to being distracted. Further, many people have built in filters for listening. Prejudice and disliking the topic are two examples of filters that can cause someone to disconnect from listening.

There are four primary styles when it comes to listening: people oriented, time oriented, action oriented and content oriented. In general, females tend to be more people oriented. Males are more likely to be one of the other three styles. About 40% of the population listens using two or more styles.

People oriented listeners are very external in their focus. Their concern is for the feelings of others. Their pronoun usage is more team centric using words such as ‘us’ and ‘we,’ as opposed to ‘I,’ ‘you’ or ‘they.’ People oriented listeners strive for understanding the issues being faced by others. They like to hear stories. They can be vulnerable and lose their ability for discernment.

Content oriented people are much more intrigued by what is being said versus whom is saying it or any of the feelings being communicated. They are focused on the facts being communicated. The credibility and expertise of the person talking is important. They are more than willing to get into details. While they understand cause and effect relationships, they tend to look at both sides of an argument and land on the side which they feel is the most logical. Trouble ensues when the content oriented listener does not pick up the desires and wishes of the speaker.

Action oriented listeners focus on the action portion of the communication. The who, what, why, where and when aspect of task completion. Their ‘output’ is a plan of action, they need specifics answers that are reality based in order to get the job done. They can be prone to jump to conclusions and also have a tendency to be overly critical of those who start their communication at a high level and do not proceed to a lower level of detail that requires some degree of activity. Their listening style can be perceived to be too controlling and less about caring for people.

Time oriented listeners are clock watchers. Their style is centered around time. Each meeting is compartmentalized within a block of time. They will listen for the appropriate amount of time, but can become quite concerned if the meeting exceeds the amount of time set aside. Time oriented listeners also have a tendency to focus on short answers which can be interpreted as not caring about the people only the answer given in the allocated amount of time.

Without question, listening is a required skill. It is also acquired, not inherent. Irrespective of our listening style or how we go about acquiring it, everyone needs to make a concerted effort to overcome the obstacles to listening. Specifically, the processing time gap between the speaker and listener needs to be bridged by the listener. You might consider being proactive and taking better notes or by thinking of follow-up questions or clarifications that are on-topic. Further, when it comes to pre-conceived listening filters, strive to be intentional in hearing and processing what is being said before considering what filters you might have that will inhibit the didactic communication flow.

In the world of business, effective communication is of paramount importance. In order for your business to grow, you must realize there could be listening issues in any number of places at your company. Commit to improve them for yourself and your company.

Dan Arens is an Indiana-based business growth advisor.

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