Listening & Team Communication

In my last entry, I spoke at length about the importance of developing a sound creative brief. One of the most important aspects of developing that brief is the gathering of information from various teams and compiling the information into an easy to read and understand, working document.

However, let’s face it, do our teams really read through the entire brief? As we stand up to present the brief to the group do we make sure that everyone is engaged and really listening? As team leaders, it is our responsibility to make sure that everyone on the team accurately understands what they are expected to accomplish. And as team members, it is also our responsibility to make sure we understand what is expected.

Too often we forget that not everyone “hears what we hear.” Listening is an often over looked part of team communications. Understanding that team members have unique listening styles can help us to become better speakers and effective listeners.

Listening is a two-way street.

When a team is working together there is much to be said. When we think about communicating within our groups we often speak of informing, coaching, debating and advising our team members. However, true communication, is a two-way street. It is a mutually exchange of information that requires an individual to not only speak, but to listen to what the other person is saying. Listening to an individual is more than just the mechanics of hearing. It is how we process this information and what cognitive choices we make on how or if we respond. How we listen is just as important in how we convey our thoughts and ideas. Listening is a cognitive process that affects how we evaluate, perceive and remember information (Worthington, 2008).

Research not only suggests that they way we listen can be categorized by listening styles but it goes one step further to say that the way in which we listen can be tied closely with our own personality and temperament style (Worthington, 2008). So why would this be important? I believe that if we place value in knowing what our personality style is and how that affects us in a team environment, then we can also benefit from understanding the way in which we prefer to listen. Previous research has shown that a person’s listening style is by habit and even when we are aware of our own particular style, we often find it difficult to switch to a different style that maybe better in a particular situation (Worthington, 2008).

In the end, how we listen is also just as important in how we speak. Studies have shown that we spend 40% of our waking hours listening and 35% talking (Hagevik, 1999). While working in a group we often will take the time to adjust our style of speaking to better suit the individual in which we are speaking with. Do we talk differently when the client is in the room? Or when the ECD is absent? We may not even be aware that we are doing so (Weaver, Watson, & Barker, 1996). However, it can be much harder to change the way in which we listen (Weaver, Watson, & Barker, 1996). I think by having a better understanding of the differences in listening styles it may help to make us better communicators.

So, what do we do when we listen?

Listening is information processing on the cognitive level, it is how we perceive, process, evaluate, remember and understand information (Worthington, 2008). Listening is the process of constructing meaning and the preparation of responding to spoken and or/ nonverbal communication (Lu, 2005). We can also make a choice to listen and to what extent we are engaged with the speaker. We also process what we are hearing differently than another listener.

It has been shown that a person’s listening skill is more from habit than conscious choice and people typically develop and rely on a dominant style of listening (Weaver, Watson, & Barker, 1996). Scholars have long debated that the way a person listens, these habits that are created, contribute to the development of an individual’s personality. Listening is indeed thought to be one of human’s earliest communication skills that are developed (Lu, 2005). Before we can speak or communicate non-verbally, we have already learned how to listen. Scholars have long thought that our personality emerges, develops and gets refined through the lens of our interactions and communication with others in society and listening plays a large part in that development  (Weaver, Watson, & Barker, 1996).

Take the test.

There are many tests which seek to discover an individual’s listening preference. The Listening Style Profile (LSP-16) developed by Watson and Baker, is just one of several tests that seek to measure and identify individual listening style preferences (Worthington 2003). The test identifies an individual as preferring one of four dominant listening styles. In this test, the results show that a person may identify more as a people, content, time or action oriented listener (Worthington 2003).

According to the LSP-16, people-oriented listeners are individuals that look to find areas of common interest with a speaker and believe that it is important to understand how the person feels (Worthington 2010). They are better able to identify a person’s emotional state and mood and may internalize these feelings (Worthington 2003). People-oriented speakers are usually more empathetic to the speaker and are often found to have a personality that is associated with people who have the Myers-Brigg type, Feeling (Worthington 2008).

People who prefer logic, more direct, to-the-point and organized speakers are said to be action-oriented listeners (Worthington 2008). They can be seen as often being impatient with speakers who are disorganized in thought, and often will internally question the incoming messages from a speaker, looking for inconsistencies and errors (Worthington 2003). Action-oriented listeners may be individuals who are also seen as decision makers and may score higher in the Sensing and Judging on the Myers-Brigg Type (Worthington 2003).

Individuals who focus more on a speaker’s “supporting evidence,” during a conversation tend to like to listen to facts before forming concrete opinions or judgments are described as content-oriented listeners (Worthington 2008). These people tend to be listeners who will often ask speakers to provide more information in order to explain their thoughts or ideas, they also prefer or favor listening to more complex or technical information (Worthington 2003). Content-oriented listeners are also often associated with the Myers-Brigg Type, Thinking (Worthington 2003).

The last listening style that is noted on the LSP-16 is time-oriented listeners. These listeners focus their communicating on time related and time-managed events. They prefer people not to be wordy, who get to the point of the conversation earlier and may interrupt speakers if they are deemed to be “wasting time” (Worthington 2008). They will often indicate to others how much time they have available to listen to them (Worthington 2003). On the Myers-Brigg Type they are more often associated with the Judging personality trait (Worthington 2010).

The second widest used test is The Listening Style Inventory or LSI, a highly recognized inventory assessment test that is often used in educational and management settings (Pierce et al. 2003). This test was designed to assess a person’s perceived listening style rather than actual listening ability (Lu, 2005). The LSI is a self-administered test and is meant to be a tool to make listeners more self-aware of their own preferred listening behavior. The test interprets a person’s preference to be either an active, involved, passive or detached listener (Lu, 2005).

Once we become aware of our own listening style, it allows us a establish a basis for not only self analyzing how we communicate with our teams, but also allows us to be open to what would make us become better and more effective listeners. In difficult situations where there is a communication breakdown, we certainly can benefit from analyzing why the communication is negative. Is our listening style causing us to assume certain expectations or intent about the speaker? It can be helpful if we take a step back and ask questions to clarify the communication so that it provides new insight into what is being said (Gunn, 2003). When we are listeners in our team, it is important for us to be responsible and to come away with 100% clarity of what is being said (Hagevik, 1999). It is not up to the speaker to make sure that we understand what is being said it is up to us, the listener (Hagevik, 1999).

Team leaders have responsibility for ensuring understanding.

On the opposite end, team leaders do have a certain responsibility to make a connection with the group. If a team member does not understand the task or what the goal is at hand, then the whole group can be affected. As a manager, when we can identify listening styles in others, it can provide a basis of how we may need to change the conversation so that our intent of the conversation is more receptive with the listener (Lu, 2005). When we know the style of the individual we can be better prepared to deliver our message in a tone and style in which the listener will be more receptive (Bennett & Wood, 1989). Above all, the team leader has the additional responsibility to communicate in a way in which to defuse confrontational situations and lower the aggressiveness of the conversation (Weaver & Weaver, 2008).

Too often I think we forget that not everyone “hears what we hear.” Our listening style is unique in much the same way our personality is unique. We form listening habits early in life and these habits can be hard to break. However, this does not mean we can’t learn how to be more effective listeners or more aware speakers. Team communication is important and when we understand each other, we are better able to understand what is expected of us. We should respect that not everyone listens the way we do. It is our responsibility to make sure we our audience understands us and there is clarity in expectations. Great communication paves the way for a positive team experience.

Want to learn more about listening? Visit


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