[Editor’s Synopsis: This article provides the reader with an understanding of the way people listen. Not everyone listens the same as everyone else. Not everyone hears the same as everyone else. This article provides an understanding of various listening types and offers suggestions on how to get your point through to everyone. Word count: 1,135.]

Seven Listening Styles and How to Approach Them
By Joe Curcillo

The new manager walks into the conference room. Several staff members turn and look at each other expressing obvious shock over his youthfulness. He begins to tell the staff that he is only instituting one new change: they are going to begin online marketing using LinkedIn.

He explains to the staff that they are to update their resumes, and they are to encourage their customers to provide positive feedback, commentary and peer endorsements. The small group begins to whisper among themselves.

“What do you mean by peer endorsements?”

”Why are we updating our resumes?” another asks.

And finally, a third simply asks, “What do you mean ’linked in?’”

Those who have developed, or grown up in an environment, where a specific concept is the norm, must remember that communication fails without a base understanding. Effective communication requires that one never assumes that the listener listens from the same mental place from which the speaker speaks.

Get Ready!

There is a series of events that takes place internally before you even utter a word. Pay attention to your internal process. What do you think about before you speak? Are you considering who you are speaking to? Do not change who you are, but allow your thought process to engage and develop.

Get Set!

As you prepare to communicate, educate yourself about the listener. Begin by sizing them up. Prioritize your audience and customize your message and delivery. Take a look at the individual (or the audience) and ask yourself if they fit in to one of the several categories of listener. Then: stop, think, and formulate a message to strike the heart of the individual listener. If there is more than one person in the audience, your message will have to be delivered to reach each person as you speak to them all. Take a look around the crowd; observe the various people and how they are behaving.

As you consider the following list, think of the people in your life. Who do you know personally that fits into one of the categories? Then begin communicating by thinking about how that individual is best addressed.

The Active Listener

This individual will listen to you and hang on your every word. They will take in your message and listen attentively. They often show signs of response—either physically or verbally—to reassure you they are listening. The active listener will also be the first person to verbally give you feedback to assure you they understand. This is the Holy Grail audience.

The Inactive Listener

This is a speaker’s worst nightmare. The listener truly allows the words to flow in one ear and out the other. Commonly, the inactive listener is far away in another place, daydreaming or solving other problems. This listener is not really listening. They are not present. They often are merely waiting to speak so they may state their position without hearing yours.

The Selective Listener

As the name implies, this listener is waiting to hear what they expect to hear. Or, they only hear what they want to hear. A selective listener gathers only the information needed to formulate a counter argument, or, may filter your words until he feels he has achieved base comprehension to his satisfaction.

The Rushed Listener

Much like an inactive listener, a rushed listener will listen only as far as is needed to get the gist of what is being said. Then, they will transition comfortably into an inactive listener.

The Scared Listener

This is really a subcategory of the selective listener, but this listener is focused on avoiding harm. Someone who is fearful of being criticized or rejected may only hear those words and phrases they feel they must defend against. Thus, you will be speaking to a selective listener in self-defense mode.

The Thoughtful Listener

This person would otherwise be an active listener; however, their only goal is to please you. They will give you signs of concurrence and support, but they are really a selective listener who filters out those things they must do in order to make you happy. The message gets lost in their thoughtfulness.

The “Uneducated” Listener

This is not a listener who is uneducated in an academic sense, but rather one who is uneducated in regard to the topic on which you are speaking.


Now is the time for you to deliver your message. You have considered who you are, what you have to communicate, and the type of listener or listeners who will hear you speak. It’s go time. So how will you keep the listener’s attention? You will use all of the tools at your disposal: Vocal; Movement; Demonstration; Vocabulary and Anchors.

By using tone and volume, we avoid monotony and rhythmically keep our audience listening.

Remaining Stationary or Moving About

In a longer presentation, controlled movement may aid in keeping attention. In short presentations, keeping focus as you stand firmly may add to the importance of the message.

Demonstrative Items

If you hold up a report, use slides, or display a product, it becomes eye candy which makes your presentation more attractive. Everyone has had an experience where someone tries to explain a situation using the salt and pepper shakers as people. Using props such as these allows your audience to visualize your point.

Feed Their Heads

Use vocabulary they can understand. Give them something their minds can digest and remember. In the boardroom, one might keep their concentration and focus by referring to income trends and future projections. On the sales floor, you may hold their attention by providing positive customer feedback and acknowledging the salespeople who are leaders in their department. On the factory floor, you will build rapport by telling them they have greater production and teamwork than anyone else in the business.

Something to Remember

Relate what you have to say to an anchor that exists in the listeners mind. This may be a comparison to a past experience or success. Show them the big picture. In the boardroom, stock charts, predictions, projections and sales trend analysis may do the trick. On the production floor, a simple banner with the percentage increase in production (blown up as large as possible) will tell the widget assemblyman exactly what they need to remember.

By weaving together all of these considerations, you will create a tapestry that will satisfy and engage a wider range of listeners. In the event of a one-on-one conversation, a few moments of observation will tell you who you are speaking to, and what you need to say to get them to understand. If you pay attention to your communication process, and then, listen to your listener before you speak, you will hear volumes! And this will allow you to communicate much more successfully, and truly be understood when you speak.

  • JOE CURCILLO is a speaker, consultant and entertainer who focusses on his passion for improving leadership, communication & culture with a Unifying Vision. He is the author of the Best Seller Getting to ‘US’: Discover the Ability to Lead Your Team to Any Result You Desire, and Don’t be a Hamster: 30 Tips to Spark the Imagination of Busy People.