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  • Writer's pictureJohn J Lowe

Listening skills @ work

Updated: Jun 1

“That’s interesting and why ….? ”        

“I disagree because ….”. Listening can be more of a personality disposition. Find out why.

Listening skills are difficult to write about and coaching on this topic can only really be conducted on a one-to-one basis. However you may find a description of my structure useful.

The best technique for self-improvement is to identify trends in other people.

For example, the people who talk too much are not inclined to be self-critical and will defend any threat of criticism, giving what they consider to be a rational justification. However they can recognise talkativeness in others when the other party does not give them the opportunity to express their own convoluted opinion!

Developing strong listening skills is critical for my role as head hunter and coach. If

I am to make an expert assessment of a candidate’s or client’s personality, I must create an atmosphere in which they can freely express themselves. It is a skill I am constantly endeavouring to refine and improve.

We classify listening techniques in two forms:

  1. Parallel.

  2. Tangent.

Parallel describes a positive listening skill, when your thoughts and expressions are parallel or in harmony with the other party.

Tangent listening describes a negative or poor listening style, frequently making remarks that are at a tangent to the other party’s conversation point. For example:

‘I had a bad journey into work today. My train was an hour late.

A tangent listener would reply, ‘Yes and when I went to Leeds three weeks ago my train was an hour late.’ A remark that is of no interest to the other party.

A good listener might have responded, ‘Did it disrupt your day? Did you have any early meetings planned?’ Or, ‘Is it often late?’ Parallel listening can be a useful technique for interviews whereby it can be applied to promote better interaction and deal with the problem of: What questions should I ask?

Metaphorically we say that the parallel listener runs verbally with and alongside the other party whilst actively sharing in their conversation and experiences. Asking for elaboration and clarification is effective during interviews.

Examples which demonstrate good listening skills on behalf of the interviewee

‘You mentioned that multitasking is a key part of the role. Can you nominate the various tasks?’

‘The job description describes the role as challenging. In what way is it challenging?’

‘Data analysis is a key component of the role. How is the data sourced, what is its composition and what is the method of analysis?’

‘Communication skills are critical to the role; is that internal or external and who are the audiences?’

‘What are the particular challenges or difficulties of this role that may not be obvious from the job description?’

This powerful interactive and engaging dialogue on behalf of the interviewee will elevate their status from the interviewer’s perspective. Quality questioning can reflect a quality candidate.

Good listeners are receptive to training and advice. Their mentality is such that training assists them in terms of improvement and development. Dispositionally the good listener engages on a third-party basis. They talk away from themselves and generally do not refer to themselves. The reference ‘I’ is seldom used.

The weak listener will normally just converse for their own gratification not really thinking, ‘Are these people interested in what I am saying?’ Their conversation will frequently be self-centred and never thought reflective. ‘Am I boring you?’ would not be a question in the forefront of their mind. They tend to have ‘an answer for everything’ and are an expert in many subjects. If criticised, they will defend their position. Not having a receptive mentality means they are difficult to train or coach.

Relating listening skills to the four personality types

The Supporter

The Supporter is a good listener and will react in sympathy with their company. In other words, if they are in the company of the Influencer they will do the listening or if they are in the company of the Analyst they will do the talking. The Supporter is a people person and therefore much of their conversations will be people centric.

Sympathy and unselfishness are the Supporter’s traits and they will demonstrate this emphasis in their people interactions. The Supporter will be reactive and quiet in the company of a verbally truculent person. To interact, they must depersonalise the conversation and engage on a non-people basis.

The Influencer

The Influencer is normally a poor listener within a social environment but good in a commercial environment. The fact that we describe the Influencer as articulate, a persuader and good at business development means that they will not have a good listening style. Despite their prominent ego, the Influencer should not consider the poor listening tag as a criticism. Good listening and poor listening styles are dichotomous.

The Influencer must work hard at improvement and endeavour to adopt the parallel listening method as described. The Influencer can practise by omitting the ‘I’ in conversation, not being opinionated but introducing commentary, ‘That’s interesting and how did you…?’ We all have friends whom we would like to phone to ask for some information, but wonder if we have that much spare time to listen to a self-indulgent verbal presentation.

The Creative

The Creative has a good listening style. They engage in active conversation which normally is unselfish in its content. They are not political people and can engage with many subjects. Their creative mind means they explore new perspectives and enjoy lively interactions.

Conversationally fast and alert, yet argumentative if the need arises aptly describes their personality. A Creative is a good listener with a flexible, adaptive style.

The Analyst

The Analyst is a good listener and their platform for conversation will be factual and relational. Small talk is not part of their verbal repertoire. The elaboration/explanation style, as explained in The Psychology of Career Planning is useful for the Analyst to engage more interactively in one-to-one or group discussions. The Analyst’s thought style is retrospective rather than the creation of new conversational topics. The Analyst is a good communicator who can cultivate a more interactive style with experience.

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