If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.

Pooh’s Little Instruction Book, Inspired by A.A. Milne

If you have done the fluff check, and that’s not the problem, maybe you and the person you are talking to have natural listening styles which are different. Perhaps your motivation or focus for listening are different. The bottom line is you both have personal needs and expectations you want to share and ineffective listening hinders that communication.

I’ve worked with many people over the years who feel perplexed, anxious and/or angry and usually eager to remedy relationship and communication difficulties… at home, in the office, between manager and employee, business associates and family members. I can say the one thing they all have in common is feeling unheard or misunderstood.

How many times have you said or heard someone say to you, you’re not listening to me!

For example, couples ask me to help them find a better way to communicate so they are more productive, happier, etc.  I’m listening to the content of their issues and observing the way sharing and listening happens between them. I’m tuning into their unmet needs and dreams while attempting to comprehend the meaning they are assigning to the other and themselves. I’m hopeful they have both an ability and willingness to appreciate the need to adopt new listening and speaking skills.

So, there I am, wearing my couple’s therapist hat, observing the communication barriers rise as the wife describes working part-time at home as a successful realtor while managing an active, precocious 6-year-old she is home schooling. She’s also in her first trimester of pregnancy attempting to keep their house relatively organized and picked up.

Her husband, an entrepreneur who continues to work overtime running his highly profitable custom home building company responds to his wife’s story with a judgment of what isn’t being managed well and suggests what she could do differently before he gets home so she’s happier.

She’s deflated and angry and he doesn’t understand what he said that was so upsetting to her.

She expected to get some understanding around what her life at home is like currently, maybe some empathy. Instead her husband responded with an evaluation and suggestions for her to try so she wouldn’t be so stressed and they would fight less.

They both look at me and asked…in unison, What’s wrong with him/her?

Deep breath.

In this article…

We’ll look at 5 listening styles which help us understand how we take in information through listening. We know that people approach listening with different purposes and motivations. Adopting and sometimes flexing these 5 listening styles can ease communication and foster considerate, collaborative and effective personal and business relationships.

5 listening styles and their respective purpose, motivation and behavioral indicators, those verbal and non-verbal signals that listeners send

—1 Empathic

  • Purpose is to support and understand the emotions of the speaker
  • Provides an opportunity for someone to express themselves
  • Accepts the message without judging
  • Learns from other people’s experiences
  • Let’s the sender know they care and shows interest
  • Let’s the sender do the talking
  • Asks open-ended questions
  • Remains relatively silent, doesn’t offer solutions immediately

Business example: Co-worker tells Carrie about his bad day–fight with wife, car accident, spilled coffee. Carrie provides support and understanding. (Empathic listening)

—2 Comprehensive

  • Purpose is to organize information and understand the meaning of the message
  • Often listening involves relating the message to their own personal experience
  • Attempts made to understand the relationships among the ideas shared
  • The rationale of the speaker’s argument is sought
  • Listens for the main ideas and supporting ideas
  • Is more fact-oriented than feeling-oriented
  • May filter out feelings and opinions of sender
  • Asks for clarification of the sender’s intended message
  • Summarizes frequently
  • Explains the message to others in their own words
  • Examples of this listening: getting information needed to complete an assignment, determining how to accomplish a task

Business example: Coworker then discusses company project, talking about problems and wanting to work with Carrie on the project. He also talked about a football game. Carrie tried to understand and make sense of information being shared. (Comprehensive listening) 

 ––3 Discerning

  • Purpose is to gather complete and accurate information; receiving
  • Determines the main message, sort out the details
  • Decides what is important and makes sure nothing is missed
  • Often takes notes, asks for clarification, concentrates and doesn’t become distracted
  • Often repeats to confirm accuracy
  • Isn’t trying to decide what the message means to him or her personally nor evaluates
  • Examples include gathering information or researching a topic

Business example: With Carrie’s guidance, co-worker then focused his discussion on the company project he mentioned earlier. Carrie asked him to slow down so she could take notes. (Discerning listening)

—4 Evaluative

  • Purpose is to make a decision based on the information provided, to judge
  • Relates what is heard to their personal beliefs
  • Questions the sender’s motives
  • Supports the message with facts
  • Accepts or rejects the message
  • Clearly agrees or disagrees, expresses skepticism, gives the sender advice
  • Quits listening or tunes out if they don’t agree with the message they are hearing
  • Examples include: deciding on an issue, voting for a candidate, drawing conclusions based on information presented, making a purchase decision

Business example: Co-worker then expressed his enthusiasm, telling Carrie how excited he was about the new project. Carrie frowns, shaking her head while looking at her notes, physically moves away, indicating she didn’t necessarily share her co-worker’s opinion. (Evaluative listening)

 —5 Appreciative

  • Purpose is to relax and enjoy the listening experience
  • Sometimes gets entertained or inspired
  • Pays attention to the context and style of presentation
  • Finds the humor in the situation
  • Responds visibly to color, sound, language and rhythm
  • Examples include: enjoying a concert, enjoying the sound or accent of someone’s voice, being enthused by the lights and colors of a presentation
  • May be distracted by a person’s tone of voice or have difficulty focusing on the message if annoyed by the way the sender presents him or herself

Business example: Carrie summarized the conversation, he told a joke which Carrie thought was really clever. She laughed. (Appreciative listening)

Implications for speaking to the 5 listening styles

It’s common for individuals to have a preferred listening style. Yet, as we can all easily imagine, our natural listening style isn’t always ideal for a conversation with someone who has a different listening style.

The option we all have as communicators is to understand how each of the listening styles prefer to receive information and flex our approach as speakers.

Back to my couple example: They are both experts in using Evaluative listening styles.  And they both want the other to give them more empathy. I guarantee if they led with empathy as well as an accurate summary of the speaker’s important points when responding (comprehensive listening), the communication wouldn’t deteriorate so rapidly. Neither thinks the other cares about their experience.

Below is a chart with the 5 listening styles heading each vertical column. Use some of the suggestions for approaching each style when you are the speaker.  For example, if I’m speaking to someone who is clearly an evaluative listener, I’m going to be concise with facts vs. story telling or feeling oriented. I will quickly check out what I know is important to him/her and get their agreement that I understand. I’ll be prepared for push back and skepticism and forgo the personal discomfort when ideas are dismissed too readily. I’ll work to show the consequences if they continue to choose certain behaviors. It’s up to them.  (A power drink before we talk helps too) 😉

Take a look at the chart. I challenge you to be aware of the listening styles around you… yours and others. Try some of the approaches below.

Here’s an idea: If you are celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends, see if you can suspend evaluative listening and stick with comprehensive or discerning listening… maybe appreciative too.

Listening Style


                           Appreciative              Empathic            Comprehensive      Discerning          Evaluative

Ways each listening style might like to receive information



Ways the speaker can flex to get their message across effectively

Show enthusiasm Be willing to share feelings Organize the presentation for them Know they want complete details but also get to the point Lay out foundation and facts
Smile more Ask more open and feeling-oriented questions Be logical Be methodical and organized Establish credibility
Show warmth Show more empathy Number the main points Clarify more Be concise


Be relaxed Be more supportive of sad, unpleasant content Tie back to their personal experiences Ask if you need to elaborate more and if you are meeting their needs Ask what they regard as good/bad or right/wrong
Lighten up Be less cognitive and more intuitive Check in to verify accurate understanding Verify if they feel something was missed Don’t shut down when they challenge or argue
Use stories, analogies, pictures Feel more, think less Give more details, background but be succinct Allow them to take notes Know they will weigh pros and cons
Be personal Don’t interrupt Move from macro to micro Minimize distractions Think more in terms of consequences
Use humor Be responsive and open to questions which they use for understanding Connect ideas Relate to what you know to be important to them
Change speaking pace for variety Demonstrate that you trust them with this information Prolong conversation as long as the other person needs Show value
Provide positive body language Summarize Ask them what they see as value


The takeaway is…

Listening is a part of communication that tends to be understood superficially, although the experience of being listened to is close to divine. Who doesn’t want to be around someone who gets their position and understands what is important to them?

As entrepreneurs we can use our awareness of the 5 listening styles and become more effective communicators. We can flex our normal listening style and foster goodwill, consideration and collaboration in both business and personal relationships.

And that’s not fluff!

I’d welcome your thoughts: Do you have some favorite listening tips?