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Listening styles


Techniques Listening > Listening styles

People | Content | Action | Time | See also


There are four styles of listening that people use when listening, depending on their preferences and purpose, as originated by Barker (1971) and developed with Watson (1995).


Those who are people-oriented show a strong concern for others and their feelings. They are external in focus, getting their energy from others and find much meaning in relationships, talking about 'we' more than 'you' or 'they'.

They will seek to understand the life stories of others and use storying themselves as a means of understanding. They will focus on emotions, be empathetic and use appeal to emotion in their arguments. They may seem vulnerable and will use this to show that they are harmless.

They can find problems when they become overly involved with others and 'go native'. This can impair their sense of judgement and ability to discriminate. They may associate so strongly with others they do not see limitations and faults, and may be drawn into unwise relationships. They also may be seen as intrusive when they seek to connect with others who are not so relationship-oriented.


People who are content-oriented are interested more in what is said rather than who is saying it or what they are feeling. They assess people more by how credible they are and will seek to test expertize and truthfulness.

They focus on facts and evidence and happily probe into detail. They are cautious in their assessment, seeking to understand cause-and-effect and sound proof before accepting anything as true. They look for both pros and cons in arguments and seek solid logical argument.

They can run into trouble when they ignore the ideas and wishes of the other person and may 'throw the baby out with the bathwater', rejecting information because it does not have sufficient supporting evidence.


Action-Oriented listeners focus on are interested first on what will be done, what actions will happen, when and who will do them.

They seek 'so what' answers in their questions and look for plans of action. They like clear, crisp descriptions and answers that are grounded in concrete reality. They like structure, bullet-points and numbered action items.

They can be impatient and hurry speakers towards conclusions. They may also be critical of people who start with the big picture and talk in ideas or concepts. This can lead them to appear overly concerned with control and less with the well-being of other people.


People who are time-oriented have their eyes constantly on the clock. They organize their day into neat compartments and will allocate time for listening, though will be very concerned if such sessions over-run.

They manage this time focus by talking about time available and seeking short answers which are to the point. This may constrain and annoy people who are focused first on people elements and want to take as long as is needed.

See also

Preferences, Types of listening, Head, hands and heart

Barker, L.L. (1971). Listening Behavior. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall

Watson, K.W. and Barker, L.L. (1995). Listening Styles Profile. Amsterdam: Pfeiffer & Company



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