The Art of Listening

Designed for people to gather and listen, the small amphitheater by the river at Boise State University hosts a variety of events from concerts, to poetry readings, and everything in-between.

Listening - hearing

Hearing is passive. We hear dogs bark, tires squeal, birds chirp, church bells ring, and the deep-throated rumble of the furnace coming to life on a winter morning. In a conversation, someone who’s hearing instead of listening is oftentimes busy formulating their own response.

Listening is active. It’s something we do on purpose; something we invest ourself in. A typical investor expects an ROI — a return on their investment.

Generally speaking, there are four types of listeners:

  • Analytical — possibly skeptical, they question and evaluate what’s being said.
  • Driver — results oriented, they listen with an ear to “How can I incorporate this information?”
  • Amiable — rapt with attention, they often smile with encouragement, urging the speaker to continue.
  • Expressive — potential interrupters, these listeners enjoy being involved and can hardly wait to share their response.

Regardless of listening style, when we invest in active listening, the benefit (return) is an enriched life with enhanced relationships and an expanded capacity for compassion.

What’s your listening style?

© Laurie Buchanan

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59 thoughts on “The Art of Listening

  1. Good morning, Laurie! I imagine I do all the types of listening. It depends on the context. At a lecture (as in for a class), I’d be analytical. At a professional lecture, I might also be driver and amiable (perhaps it’s a friend I want to encourage?). In a conversation with a friend, perhaps I’d be expressive.

    I love the open-air amphitheater!

  2. What a great intro to an important topic, Laurie. Miscommunication certainly takes no work at all. It’s fun to try and figure out which style is ours. And, with your other commenters, I claim a combination of these listening styles too. Now, I wonder what the research says about how often we “check it out?” I think we all assume we are good listeners, that we “get it” right away. Yet, as my husband and I frequently find, we too rarely are aware — by its very nature — of what we have missed.

  3. You’re so lucky to have an amphitheater in your area! Our daughter has one near her in Chapel Hill, NC, and we saw an enchanting large puppet show there one night last summer. There’s something special about theater out in the open air. I don’t even know if we have an amphitheater here in Connecticut, but we do have Shakespeare-in-the-Park – we all sit on blankets and low beach chairs on a grassy hill…

    I think my listening style is a good mix of all four.

  4. I’d like to say that I listen in all those ways on a daily basis. But listening is work and if you’ve ever been the parent of a adolescent or are engaged in an argument with someone who has to be right, you know that listening can turn into non-listening. To be a good listener is be able to set all of that aside and put yourself in the place of the person you need to listening to. That is the way to compassion.

  5. I suspect all or any one of the above, depending on the situation, most often appropriately but sometimes not. The sometimes not times make me sad – later.

    • Fatimasaysell — Clearly we were cut from the same bolt of cloth. About 75% of the time I’m amiable, but put me with my sister or very close friends and I’m expressive; not at all worried about interrupting, as we’re all doing it simultaneously — sounding just like a gaggle of geese! 🙂

  6. I would answer now “Amiable — rapt with attention, they often smile with encouragement, urging the speaker to continue.” Listening is an art that I have struggled to improve upon within my own self. I was the “Expressive” type originally, definitely one of the “interrupters” because I was always feeling an urge to respond, even while I was listening and I think the fear in me was that I would forget that totally “important” thought that was mine alone to express. GOL

    In addition to simply recognizing how inconsiderate my behavior was (and helped by the fact that my husband tends to elaborate on his thoughts extensively and quite slowly but absolutely will “call me out” on it if I interrupt him – what a blessing to be corrected repeatedly by someone who I recognize does love me !!), beginning a study of Nonviolent Communication helped me a lot with my listening.

    I can now give whoever is in my physical presence my complete attention with an open and receptive heart that seeks to discern what it is that is “alive” in the person speaking to me. I’ve noticed that this practice seems to have enhanced the quality of my marital relationship in admittedly subtle but with definitely slightly improved qualities.

    I am still a bit more challenged in telephone conversations but I do try to restrain my urge to interrupt with my own thoughts. I think because I can’t look the other person on the phone line in the eye it proves a bit more challenging for me still.

  7. I’ve probably been all of those types of listeners on occasion. My goal these days is to listen to understand what’s being said, though I struggle at times with impatience.
    I like that saying: that we have two ears and only one mouth – for a reason

  8. I listen with all types of intentions Laurie but the least used is analytical. It just takes me a while to go there particularly if I am enjoying what is being said and it is stimulating my imagination. I do love a good story best though. This is my favourite kind of pure enjoyment listening.

    • Terrill – I love a well-told story, too. Just last night Len and I attended “Story Story Night” in Boise. The paper touted it as: “…a storytelling phenomenon based in Boise, Idaho, with live events showcasing true stories on a theme, told live on stage and without notes.”

      Captivating and engaging, we listened with rapt attention to each storyteller 🙂

  9. Good reminders, Laurie. One I need to be reminded of most is listening with full attention. My husband reminds me that this doesn’t happen when I look at him pretending to listen with my fingers on a keyboard. On my best days, I listen with all four types of intention.

    This summer, I will be listening for the deep-throated rumble of the A/C coming to life to cool our house.

    • Marian — You cracked me up! Cliff and Len must be cut from the same bolt of cloth as my guy isn’t fooled either when I pretend to listen — with full eye contact — as my fingers continue to smoke the keyboard! 🙂

  10. Coincidentally, Laurie, you published this article on the birthday of one of the best listeners I had the pleasure of knowing — my mom. She listened with her whole self. She was there to offer support or to celebrate success. I aim to follow in her footsteps.

    To increase my ability to listen, I find it useful to take notes. Engaging in meditation has taught me how to be truly present.

  11. I try to be amiable in most cases, but I guess I’m all of the above depending on the circumstances at the time. But I’d like to think I’m not too much of an interrupter! The worst kind of listener which I definitely hope I am not, lol is the kind that I have the unfortunate experience to encounter with someone I know, in that they listen for about 30 seconds, decide they’re not remotely interested in the topic (mainly if it isn’t about them! lol) and literally interrupt with a complete change of subject, totally ignoring what’s being said and acting as if it had never been mentioned in the first place! Height of ignorance or what!!! They don’t even pretend to be half interested!!

  12. I think amiable. Apparrantly I’ve always been a ‘good’ listener, and people have always confided in me. I think what it is, is that I don’t judge. People can be so judgemental, and I dont like that. We dont know how it feels to walk in someone elses shoes.

    • Ali — You hit the bullseye! Being non-judgmental is paramount to being a good listener (regardless of a person’s listening style). It eases the one who’s doing the talking into a place of comfort. No wonder people seek you out to share their confidences 🙂

  13. Laurie, like Ted, I would have to say all the above and probably then some. I often listen with my eyes for unspoken words, with my heart for feelings that are struggling to be expressed and my hands to accept the message being shared. There are times when words are inadequate to the job of putting a message across in difficult situations, turning my body into a “Radar Antenna” to pick up the silent signals. Great post!

    • Sandi – I knew, Knew KNEW that this would be true for YOU. Listening between the lines with your heart. Catching emotions with your heart that might otherwise slip through the cracks. And BEing there for the other person as a pillar for them to lean on 🙂

  14. I think my listening style varies depending on who I’m listening to, but I’m an active listener. I enjoy listening to others, and I’m put off by people who aren’t good listeners, so I guess that keeps me on track. With friends, I’m an amiable listener, more than not, but I can slip easily into analytical if I’m not yet sure of the one who’s sharing. Now that I’ve said I’m a good listener I will admit that I’ve learned at work I’m not a good listener first thing in the morning…I need some time to warm up to that. 🙂

  15. I would say I am an amiable listener , being a hairdresser by trade , you have to be but I reckon I am also an expressive listener . I am bubbling up inside , hardly being able to wait to give my opinion and that’s not because I think my opinion is more important , I certainly don’t . I just don’t want to miss my chance to express it .
    We have Shakespeare in some amazing places here in the U.K ; castles , Stately homes , the grounds of ruins , beaches . We are blessed , BUT , with our unpredictable weather it has to be summertime and even that could bring rain . I remember going to see The Merry Wives in Hadley hall and watching with blankets wrapped around me and my teeth were still chattering .
    Cherryx

  16. I would say I am an amiable listener , being a hairdresser by trade , you have to be but I reckon I am also an expressive listener . I am bubbling up inside , hardly being able to wait to give my opinion and that’s not because I think my opinion is more important , I certainly don’t . I just don’t want to miss my chance to express it .

    We have Shakespeare in some amazing places here in the U.K ; castles , Stately homes , the grounds of ruins , beaches . We are blessed , BUT , with our unpredictable weather it has to be summertime and even that could bring rain . I remember going to see The Merry Wives in Hadley hall and watching with blankets wrapped around me and my teeth were still chattering .
    Cherryx

  17. Lol! I think I’m more of an expressive listener. 🙂 Sometimes people say I talk too much simply because I tend to share my experience when I listen to my friends. But then a lot of my friends also love to confide in me. 🙂

  18. I enjoy imagining the thought process you use as you craft these weekly messages, Laurie. You are listening to your landscape and to your own inner self, pulling together what you’ve learned in from books or classes with what you know to be true in life. You teach me to be a better NOTICER of all my senses and of my relationships to place, history, loved ones and friends, and books. Thank you!

    I can be all of the listener types and have been in various settings. I am learning to be less expressive, more amiable, and less analytical and driven as I get older. I have less need to impress and more empathy for the speaker now. When I’m on my best behavior. 🙂

    • Shirley — Your “When I’m on my best behavior” comment made me smile 🙂

      For those readers who read the comments of others, let me say that LISTENING to you when you were in Seattle, and “LISTENING” to your blog posts (now that I’ve heard you speak I can imagine you speaking them), it was easy for me as an audience-member to be an amiable listener to your fantastic book tour presentation.

      Thank you for the high compliment about helping you to be a better NOTICER. You just made my day!

  19. In general I would say I am the first three. If something is making me angry or I know it’s not right, I will become more expressive. Because “hearers and expressive” people tend to push my buttons, I try to consciously be an active listener and will share more with friends or acquaintances who are the same!

    I think active listening is also something that may be taught in our early years. I know with my own children when I am explaining something and they are constantly trying to interrupt be it in their defense or to share, I will nicely remind them to listen to all I or someone else is saying, count to 3 and then respond so the person knows you heard them.

    Great post. Tina

  20. I can be all four at once or individually depending on the speaker and/or the subject. But on balance I’d say expressive. I am not one to recoil and listen, as my personality is not of that variety to say the least. But I’d say each of those listening qualifications are laudable, with every one coming away with something rewarding.

    Wow, that amphitheater does sound like quite the place Laurie! 🙂

    • Sam — Having met you (and yours) in person, I know that you have a wonderfully effervescent personality, so I’m not in the least bit surprised that you’re an expressive listener 🙂

  21. Like others above I use all the listening styles, and which one(s) depend on the person speaking and the topic. I suspect it could also depend on my relationship with the speaker.
    Great topic Laurie.

    To many times we don’t truly “listen” not just to the words, but the emotion or lack of coming from the person. Our attention and communication, or lack of can either make the other person feel validated/cared for, or invisible/not important enough. It hurts my heart to think I have ever made anyone else feel hurt because I was not truly “there” for them.

  22. I think my listening style alternates between the first three depending on what I am listening to…maybe predominantly a Driver with big chunks of the other two. But in a discussion with a friend I can occasionally become expressive too…what a mess 😀

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