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Listening Skills Can Help Bridge Communication Gaps

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

Inter-cultural Intelligence is key to understanding and closing the gaps in communication that technological, industrial, and geo-political advancements could never close. Even (especially!) diplomats and ambassadors who represent their countries to one another will experience shortfalls and misunderstandings without some inter-cultural awareness training.

Did you know that—just as there are many personality types and diverse learning, speaking, and writing styles—there also different listening styles? (Read more about how to derive value from Listening Styles).

Listening Styles

Here is a summary of five distinct types of listeners:

1. Appreciative Listener Profile

Appreciative listeners listen for inspiration, and prefer listening to speakers who entertain them and make them feel good about themselves, which helps them relax. They are about the overall impression given—their enjoyment of content is linked to how much they enjoy the presentation and whether the speaker enjoys presenting.

2. Empathic Listener Profile

An Empathic listener desires to be a supportive, reflective sounding board. Empathic listeners are patient, perceptive, and relate easily to a speaker’s feelings. They give verbal and physical cues that indicate they are feeling the impact of what is being said—which is partly why they are often approached by people who want to vent or think out loud. Empathic listeners probably will encourage people to make their own decisions rather than offering them advice.

3. Discerning Listener Profile

Discerning listeners want to ensure they hear and retain all the information. They focus intensely and take notes on any presentation or conversation. They can usually recall the speaker’s appearance, behavior, and voice. Distractions are especially annoying to them, and if there are too many distractions, this type of listener will likely have to tune out altogether.

4. Comprehensive Listener Profile

Comprehensive listeners connect what they hear to what they already know by organizing and summarizing the information as they listen. They are quick to identify key points and the links between one message and another, even when a speaker is disorganized or unclear. These listeners seek to understand the rationale of the argument and ask clarifying questions. Generally, they can figure out what people intend to say, even if it was not articulated well, and they can in turn re-explain the message more clearly.

5. Evaluative Listener Profile

Evaluative listeners do not accept something as true just because an expert claims it is. They tend to be skeptical about overly enthused speakers, listening specifically to hear how speakers develop and support their arguments. These listeners want the facts, and they speculate about the speaker’s intentions, mentally “arguing” with the speaker, before accepting the message. If they do not like what a speaker is saying, they will simply quit listening.

Bridging intercultural communication gaps

More than ever before in all of world history, we enjoy incredible capacity to communicate worldwide. Technological and industrial developments have diminished certain communication gaps, cinching together all kinds of cut or fraying lines of communication, creating new possibilities where none previously existed, overcoming the obstacles of phenomenal distances and language barriers.

However, despite all this progress, we still experience communication gaps, especially in multicultural teams. Why? There always has been, and always will be, much more to communication than merely the technical aspects. Satellites and VoIP and language acquisition are not cure-alls for communication problems in a globalized world. Some communication disconnects have nothing to do with tech, or even with personal willingness to talk and listen. Some disconnects are cultural, and need to be addressed at a deeper, cultural level.

Bridging the intercultural communication gaps is more complex than merely “becoming a better listener.” As with other insights into our differing types and styles, we need to identify and assess how our particular listening styles’ strengths and weaknesses affect our intercultural interactions.

Also beyond just listening “well,” if we are addressing communication problems at a deeper, cultural level, we must acknowledge that different speakers’ communication culture may require different kinds of listening and different ways of expressing and receiving feedback in a conversation or a presentation.

For example, about half the world engages in direct communication, whereas the other half communicates indirectly (Read more about direct and indirect communication). So in different cultural milieus, the onus rests upon the listener to discern the speaker’s underlying meanings and intentions. In some cultures, bluntly responding with constructive criticism or correction is intended and perceived as a sign of respect, trust, and mutual commitment to the accuracy and efficacy of the message. In other cultures, it would come across as disrespectful to respond with anything beyond a subtle hint or softly-spoken clue to the speaker that perhaps something was amiss.

In today’s globalized environment—a smartphone and a webcam can facilitate amazing communication opportunities! To capitalize upon those opportunities and enjoy effective interaction among people with diverse listening profiles and diverse cultural backgrounds, however, we must recognize that good communication is not just about listening well. It’s about listening with intercultural awareness. How prepared are you to listen interculturally?


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