Task-Oriented Listeners

Task- or content-oriented listeners, whether in personal or workplace contexts, are the efficiency experts of interpersonal conversations.  They get quite excited about the technical content in conversations; they possess a knack for considering all sides of any given issue. Like the critical listener, this listening type also engages in multi-tasking, but rather than merely evaluate message content, they spend time drilling down deeply for details.  If they perceive the speaker does not have expertise in his or her topic, they can lose interest quickly. Even more intimidating to the other speaker is their habit of posing challenging questions in an attempt to elicit more information.

This type of listener is greatly appreciated in businesses and organizations because they have a propensity for clarifying content, accomplishing many things proficiently and engendering support for ideas, not just their own.  This listening style is also the best at playing the devil’s advocate.  They are hard to argue with because they enter conversations armed with the facts and they are not afraid to be challenged.  This is the charts-and-graphs listener, the ones who quote credible experts to prove their points and challenges others to bring similar data into the discussion.

Given all of this, this style may become counter-productive when more careful deliberation is called for or concern for feelings needs to be acknowledged.  As their frustration rises, they risk alienating the other speaker with both verbal and non-verbal signals that minimizes non-essential details. This can result in their taking a long time to make decisions. This listening style can also be very tricky, culturally speaking.  If the other speaker comes from a culture where being brusque or blunt is considered impolite, they may be left with an impression that the listener did not intend to give. In individualistic cultures, like that of in the U.S., more leeway is given to those who are task-driven.  However, collectivistic cultures place a higher premium on emotions and feelings. When their importance is minimized in an effort to get things done quickly it may cause more problems than it solves.  Further, if the listener implies that there is only one right answer, theirs, they risk losing respect. Ignoring another’s perspectives, insights and their need to feel included will not make for a very cooperative relationship.

The takeaway on this type of listening style is

  • They are efficient and encourage others to be more organized
  • They tend to be attentive to the details or technical points in a conversation, not its emotional content
  • They can assist others in focusing and considering all sides of an issue
  • They ask questions for clarity and understanding

Critical Listeners

A critical or action-centered listener is constantly evaluating the content of a conversation more than the emotions involved or what appears to be the topic-at-hand. They are more concerned with how accurate and consistent the message is than with building relationships or analyzing it from a variety of perspectives. They can perceive that there is non-verbal communication going on, but they tend to disregard that because…well, frankly, they are too busy focusing on investigative problem-solving. Give them the facts as quickly as possible or risk having them interrupt to ask questions.

This listening type is seldom guilty of ambiguity – you will clearly know from their side of the conversation what they expect of you. They are thinking while you are talking, but not necessarily making up their response. In their minds, this kind of multi-tasking is not rudeness; it is just part of their style.  While the conversation is going on, they are, at the very least, mentally outlining the remarks into a well-organized to-do list. They often speak rapidly and jump ahead to the next item on that list. That is, after all, how problems get solved!

They don’t want to know how you feel.  They want to know what you want them to do. What is it the speaker expects of them? Are they asking for advice or assistance in breaking down something that they find too complex to deal with?  What action should be considered?  Action oriented listeners may come across as finicky or too particular, but this is because they have a need to know all of the necessary information.

Listening well can be time-consuming because it requires us to pay attention. Therefore, if this type of listener perceives a decision has to be made, they will also spend more time discarding and/or ignoring what they perceive as unnecessary content.  They may hear it, but it is not going to be retained. Listeners who use this style fancy themselves to be good problem-solvers.  When solutions are needed, they perceive they are being asked to investigate and act, so they readily accept the challenge.  They can help others focus on getting things done. They can also be a great source of encouragement and organization, pushing others to take action as well.  This makes them important contributors to both business and personal transactions.

However, if solutions, advice or assistance is not what the other person is seeking, critical listeners may come across as hypercriticalWhy do they need to know that, the other speaker wants to know.  They also have a tendency to jump to conclusions, make assumptions and, most annoying of all, finish the other speaker’s sentences.  All of these traits can harm or minimize relationships rather than enhance them. Not every conversation is a cry for help or a problem seeking a solution.

The takeaway on this type of listening style is:

  • They listen primarily for content and its quality
  • They are rational thinkers, often constructing a list of action items even as the other speaker is still speaking
  • They evaluate as they listen, with an ear for errors, contradictions and inconsistencies
  • Investigative problem-solving is the critical listener’s forte