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Beyond Active Listening

I read an article in MIT Sloan Management Review (September 21, 2022) by Nancy Duarte, a communications executive, and specialist, in which she outlined four adaptive listening styles that lie beyond active listening. Adopting these styles will significantly improve and enhance your communication with others, whether in your business or personal life.

In most situations, there are four reasons why a speaker wishes to be heard and understood. If you adapt your listening style to respond to their needs, you will be more effective and helpful to the speaker. You are aligning your listening style to the specific goal of the speaker, that is, how they want you to deal with what they are speaking about.

In short, the four adaptive listening styles are as follows.

  • Immersive. This is where a speaker is asking you to listen without judgment or comment. The clue is that they are trying to update or inform you of a situation or project. Ask clarifying questions that help you understand what they are saying, and do not pass judgment.

  • Discerning. In this situation, a speaker asks for feedback or another point of view regarding a specific project or problem. Sometimes they are simply asking you whether they are on the right path.

  • Advance. When a speaker is pressed for time and wondering how they will move a project along, they ask for your assistance in helping advance the project. They may be seeking a decision to be made and asking for your help in making that decision. It could also be that they are stuck and require assistance from you or another team member.

  • Supportive. When a speaker is experiencing either high or low points in their emotions, the listener needs to provide that support by empathically listening and validating their feelings. Celebrating the high points and acknowledging the low points is critical for the speaker to feel they are being heard and understood.

These adaptive listening styles will strengthen your role as a leader in the same way you need to consider an individual’s learning and behavioral styles. Each style, whether listening, learning, or behavioral, will affect your interactions and how you communicate with each person more effectively.

When listening to a person, you should ask yourself: how do they want me to respond to what they are saying?

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