PQ 7.6 — How well do I listen to my partners?
“You’re not listening to me!”
I can’t count the number of times I’ve had this said to me. Nor how many times I’ve said this to someone else.
And sometimes we don’t listen to people. But many other times? It’s more that we’re not listening to people the way that they want us to listen to them.
Here are 6 very common types of listening that can contribute to a mismatch if not paired well to a situation.
When we listen to something for enjoyment, it’s appreciative listening. So if you listen to a podcast that entertains you while you work out, that would qualify as appreciative. As would going to a concert.
An appreciative style is very passive. Very one-sided. The listener isn’t expecting to react in any way to the information or to respond to what they listen to.
They’re just letting it soak in.
A comprehensive style kicks in when we’re taking in information. We might listen to instruction for a process we’re hoping to perform in the future, i.e., watching a cooking show.
Or we’re sitting in an academic lecture and trying to track what will be important for the test that’s coming up.
Or our partner is giving us a list of things they want us to accomplish during the day.
In comprehensive listening, we’re trying to absorb and remember the literal content of the message in order to put it to good use later.
When we listen critically, we analyze what the speaker is saying. We focus on the main points of the argument they’re making. And we try to determine the speaker’s agenda and overarching premise.
This style is very good when we’re engaged in formal debate. Or if we’re a lawyer working on a case.
But utilizing it in a relationship often backfires spectacularly. It’s hard for people to be vulnerable with one another when they feel attacked.
In discriminative style, we look past the words that are being spoken and instead we listen to detect hidden messages, especially emotional subtext.
Pet owners will likely note that dogs and cats are keen at discriminative listening. They don’t always recognize the words that are being used, but they’re adept at recognizing the emotional tone of their owner’s message. And figuring out whether you’re saying their name in a loving or angry way.
Humans do it as well, especially when we suspect we’re not being told the whole truth. We employ this style with salespeople and marketers.
And we use this style in relationships when we feel like a romantic partner is hiding something from us.
Empathetic Listening (a.k.a. Relationship Listening)
Empathetic listening is crucial when mediating, helping someone through a problem, or being emotionally supportive.
There’s a reason this style is also called relationship listening.
It’s a difficult style that can be exhausting to do correctly. It takes a lot of attention and emotional labor.
In the empathetic style, we actively listen, not with the goal of responding or applying the information to practical purpose, but to understand the speaker so that we can help them emotionally.
A pseudo listening style is often used when a person hears noise that is not particularly interesting to them. For example, someone who is not into sports would pseudo listen to a football game on TV that others have put on.
When we pseudo listen, we hear what people say but don’t really absorb the content or pay much attention to it.
“You’re Not Listening to Me!”
Oftentimes, when we feel like we’re not being listened to, the person we’re speaking to actually is. They just aren’t using the style that we want.
When it comes to being a good listener, it’s not simply a matter of skill with any one style but knowing which style to use in any given situation.
There are many ways that a mismatch of styles can cause communication difficulties.
But quite frequently, issues occur when we’re looking for emotional support, and we want someone to use empathetic listening, and they don’t. Instead:
- Our partner pseudo listens. Our words are being heard but not paid much attention to.
- They listen critically and argue with us about the logical validity of our words.
- They use a comprehensive listening style and listen to give advice and take practical actions based on what we’re describing.
Mars? Venus? Oh, Please
Some pop culture sources attribute this mismatch to gender — i.e., women want empathetic listening and men prefer to listening comprehensively. But while it does happen this way sometimes, real-world scenarios don’t always follow gender stereotypes (especially true as gender roles are increasingly regarded as non-compulsory and the gender binary comes under more scrutiny).
I’ve seen plenty of style mismatches that deviate from this pattern. And in same-sex relationships. Furthermore, people don’t always default to the same listening style. Depending on their emotional state, how tired or hungry they are, and environmental context (where are they? what are they doing?), they will listen differently.
Some Things to Consider
Pay attention to which styles you use and when. Are they different with different people? At different times?
Are they well received? Would a different style result in better outcomes?
This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions & answers, please see this indexed list.