Relational Listeners

The relational or people-centered listener primarily listens for emotional cues rather than just content in conversations.  This type of listener generally will stop whatever they are doing to give the speaker their undivided attention.  The speaker’s cues, both verbal and non-verbal, are carefully considered because people-centered listeners know that sometimes the message being conveyed goes beyond mere words.

Relational listeners tend to focus more on creating emotional closeness with the speaker than offering solutions.  While listening, they seldom speak about themselves, but they do think while listening, often wondering if the speaker is hoping they will pick up on their emotional state and respond to it. Does the speaker want compassion or an empathetic response? Is this person asking for understanding, but not my opinion necessarily? Are they expecting supportive responses rather than analysis, advice or solutions?

The good news about being a relational listener is that their natural tendency is be attentive, approachable and sincere.  At their best, relational listeners are empathetic and respectful of the other speaker, allowing them time, as well as a constructive climate in which to say what is on their mind. They will use verbal cues, such as uh-huh, to indicate affirmation, or agreement, rather than jumping in with too many disruptive comments.  Non-verbal cues, such as shaking their head or reaching out to touch another’s hands or shoulders are other signals that they are really engaged in the conversation.

This style of listening lends itself easily to empathetic responses because it allows the listener to identify with the speaker’s emotions. Again, it is not evaluative; it is not listening to seek clarification.  In empathy, one legitimizes a speaker’s right to their feelings even if they do not necessarily agree with them. It is very important to note that; empathy is not assent.  It merely implies that the other speaker has a right to their feelings.  When we empathize with another, we do not seek to minimize or make light of their dilemma or situation.  We also resist the temptation to reverse the focus onto ourselves. Empathetic responses communicate validation and worth; research indicates that the ability to respond this way can be learned.  Good news because it does not come naturally to everyone.

There is a downside to this listening style, however, in that the relational listener sometime finds themselves becoming too emotionally involved.  That emotional connection can keep them from being able to objectively assess the details within a conversation.  Further, for all of their good intentions, this listening style can often come across as being too intrusive if the other person tends to be introverted, private or a less expressive communicator.

The takeaway on this type of listening style is

  • They quickly pick up and seek to understand the feelings of the speaker
  • They listen for moods and emotional substance over message content
  • They seek to build relationships and connect by giving good verbal and non-verbal feedback
  • They generally tend to be non-judgmental

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