- Discuss different types of listening responses.
- Discern different types of questioning.
- Analyze perception checking.
Who do you think is a great listener? Why did you name that particular person? How can you tell that person is a good listener? You probably recognize a good listener based on the nonverbal and verbal cues that they display. In this section, we will discuss different types of listening responses. We all don’t listen in the same way. Also, each situation is different and requires a distinct style that is appropriate for that situation.
Types of Listening Responses
Ronald Adler, Lawrence Rosenfeld, and Russell Proctor are three interpersonal scholars who have done quite a bit with listening.52 Based on their research, they have found different types of listening responses: silent listening, questioning, paraphrasing, empathizing, supporting, analyzing, evaluating, and advising (Figure 7.4.1).53
Silent listening occurs when you say nothing. It is ideal in certain situations and awful in other situations. However, when used correctly, it can be very powerful. If misused, you could give the wrong impression to someone. It is appropriate to use when you don’t want to encourage more talking. It also shows that you are open to the speaker’s ideas.
Sometimes people get angry when someone doesn’t respond. They might think that this person is not listening or trying to avoid the situation. But it might be due to the fact that the person is just trying to gather their thoughts, or perhaps it would be inappropriate to respond. There are certain situations such as in counseling, where silent listening can be beneficial because it can help that person figure out their feelings and emotions.
In situations where you want to get answers, it might be beneficial to use questioning. You can do this in a variety of ways. There are several ways to question in a sincere, nondirective way (see Table 7.4.1):
|To clarify meanings||A young child might mumble something and you want to make sure you understand what they said.|
|To learn about others’ thoughts, feelings, and wants (open/closed questions)||When you ask your partner where they see your relationship going in the next few years.|
|To encourage elaboration||Nathan says “That’s interesting!” Jonna has to ask him further if he means interesting in a positive or negative way.|
|To encourage discovery||Ask your parents how they met because you never knew.|
|To gather more facts and details||Police officers at the scene of the crime will question any witnesses to get a better understanding of what happened.|
You might have different types of questions. Sincere questions are ones that are created to find a genuine answer. Counterfeit questions are disguised attempts to send a message, not to receive one. Sometimes, counterfeit questions can cause the listener to be defensive. For instance, if someone asks you, “Tell me how often you used crystal meth.” The speaker implies that you have used meth, even though that has not been established. A speaker can use questions that make statements by emphasizing specific words or phrases, stating an opinion or feeling on the subject. They can ask questions that carry hidden agendas, like “Do you have $5?” because the person would like to borrow that money. Some questions seek “correct” answers. For instance, when a friend says, “Do I look fat?” You probably have a correct or ideal answer. There are questions that are based on unchecked assumptions. An example would be, “Why aren’t you listening?” This example implies that the person wasn’t listening, when in fact they are listening.
Paraphrasing is defined as restating in your own words, the message you think the speaker just sent. There are three types of paraphrasing. First, you can change the speaker’s wording to indicate what you think they meant. Second, you can offer an example of what you think the speaker is talking about. Third, you can reflect on the underlying theme of a speaker’s remarks. Paraphrasing represents mindful listening in the way that you are trying to analyze and understand the speaker’s information. Paraphrasing can be used to summarize facts and to gain consensus in essential discussions. This could be used in a business meeting to make sure that all details were discussed and agreed upon. Paraphrasing can also be used to understand personal information more accurately. Think about being in a counselor’s office. Counselors often paraphrase information to understand better exactly how you are feeling and to be able to analyze the information better.
Empathizing is used to show that you identify with a speaker’s information. You are not empathizing when you deny others the rights to their feelings. Examples of this are statements such as, “It’s really not a big deal” or “Who cares?” This indicates that the listener is trying to make the speaker feel a different way. In minimizing the significance of the situation, you are interpreting the situation in your perspective and passing judgment.
Sometimes, in a discussion, people want to know how you feel about them instead of a reflection on the content. Several types of supportive responses are: agreement, offers to help, praise, reassurance, and diversion. The value of receiving support when faced with personal problems is very important. This has been shown to enhance psychological, physical, and relational health. To effectively support others, you must meet certain criteria. You have to make sure that your expression of support is sincere, be sure that other person can accept your support, and focus on “here and now” rather than “then and there.”
Analyzing is helpful in gaining different alternatives and perspectives by offering an interpretation of the speaker’s message. However, this can be problematic at times. Sometimes the speaker might not be able to understand your perspective or may become more confused by accepting it. To avoid this, steps must be taken in advance. These include tentatively offering your interpretation instead of as an absolute fact. By being more sensitive about it, it might be more comfortable for the speaker to accept. You can also make sure that your analysis has a reasonable chance of being correct. If it were inaccurate, it would leave the person more confused than before. Also, you must make sure the person will be receptive to your analysis and that your motive for offering is to truly help the other person. An analysis offered under any other circumstances is useless.
Evaluating appraises the speaker’s thoughts or behaviors. The evaluation can be favorable (“That makes sense”) or negative (passing judgment). Negative evaluations can be critical or non-critical (constructive criticism). Two conditions offer the best chance for evaluations to be received: if the person with the problem requested an evaluation, and if it is genuinely constructive and not designed as a putdown.
Advising differs from evaluations. It is not always the best solution and can sometimes be harmful. In order to avoid this, you must make sure four conditions are present: be sure the person is receptive to your suggestions, make sure they are truly ready to accept it, be confident in the correctness of your advice, and be sure the receiver won’t blame you if it doesn’t work out.
Perceptions change in a relationship. Initially, people can view others positively (for example, confident, thrifty, funny), then later in the relationship that person changes (arrogant, cheap, childish). The person hasn’t changed. Only our perceptions of them have changed. That is why we focus on perception in a communication book because often, our perception affects how we communicate. It also has an impact on what we listen to and how we listen. For instance, when people get married, one person might say, “I love you! I would die for you,” then a couple of years later, that same person might say, “I hate you! I am going to kill you!” Their perceptions about the other person will change.54
Even when people break up, men typically will think about the physical aspects of the relationship (I gave her a watch, she wasn’t that hot) and women will think about the emotional aspects of the relationship (I gave him my heart, I really cared about him.). Perception is an interesting thing because sometimes we think other people have a similar perspective, but as we will see, that is not always the case.
What we pay attention to varies from one person to another. The first step in the perception process is selection. It determines what things we focus on compared to what things we ignore. What we select to focus on depends on:
- Intensity – if it is bigger, brighter, louder in some way. Think about all the advertisements that you view. If the words are bigger or if the sound is louder, you are more likely to pay attention to it. Advertisers know that intensity is very important to get people to pay attention.
- Repetition–It has been said that to get someone to do something, they have to be told three different ways and three different times. People pay attention to things that repeat because you can remember it easier. In school, we learn to do things over and over again, because it teaches us mastery of a skill.
- Differences – We will pay attention to differences, especially if it is a disparity or dissimilarity to what commonly occurs. Think about changes or adjustments that you had to deal with in life. These transformations made you notice the comparisons. For instance, children who go through a divorce will talk about the differences that they encountered. Children will focus on how things are different and how it is not the same.
- Motives/Goals. We tend to pay attention to things for which have a strong interest or desire. If you love cars, you will probably notice cars more closely than someone else who has no interest in cars. Another example might be if you are single, then you might notice who is married and who is not more than someone in a committed relationship.
- Emotions. Our emotional state has a strong impact on how we view life in general. If we are sad, we will probably notice other sad faces. The same thing happens when we are happy; we will tend to notice other happy people. Our emotions can impact how we feel. If we are angry, we might say things we don’t mean and not perceive how we come across to other people.
The second phase in the perception process is organization, or how we arrange information in our minds. So, once we have selected what information we pay attention to, our minds try to process it. Sometimes when this occurs, we engage in stereotyping or attribute certain characteristics to a certain set of individuals. In other words, we classify or labels others based on certain qualities.
Also, when people organize information in their mind, they can also engage in punctuation, or establishing the effects and causes in communication behavior. It is more useful to realize that a conflict situation can be perceived differently by each person, and it is important to focus on “What we can do to make this situation better?”
The third phase of the perception process is interpretation. In this phase, we try to understand the information or make sense of it. This depends on a few factors:
- Degree of involvement–If we were in the middle of an accident, we would probably have more information regarding what event occurred compared to a bystander. The more involved we are with something, the more we can make sense of what is actually happening. For instance, in cults, the members understand the rules and rituals, but an outsider would not understand, because they are not exposed to the rules and rituals.
- Relational satisfaction – If we are happy in a relationship, we tend to think that everything is wonderful. However, if you are dissatisfied in the relationship, you might second guess the behaviors and actions of your partner.
- Past experiences – If you had a good past experience with a certain company, you might think that everything they do is wonderful. However, if your first experience was horrible, you may think that they are always horrible. In turn, you will interpret that company’s actions as justified because you already encountered a horrible experience.
- Assumptions about human behavior – If you believed that most people do not lie, then you would probably be very hurt if someone important to you lied to you. Our assumptions about others help us understand their behaviors and actions. If you had a significant other cheats on you, you would probably be suspicious of future interactions with other significant others.
- Expectations – Our behaviors are also influenced by our expectations of others. If we expect a party to be fun and it isn’t, then we will be let down. However, if we have no expectations about a party, it may not affect how we feel about it.
- Knowledge of others – If you know that someone close to you has a health problem, then it will not be a shock if they need medical attention. However, if you had no clue that this person was unhealthy, it would come as a complete surprise. How you interpret a given situation is oftentimes based on what you know about a certain situation. 55
The last phase of the perception process is called negotiation. In this phase, people are trying to understand what is happening. People often use narratives or stories to explain and depict their life. For instance, a disagreement between a teacher and student might look very different depending on which perspective you take. The student might perceive that they are hard-working and very studious. The student thinks they deserve a high grade. However, the teacher might feel that their job is to challenge all students to their highest levels and be fair to all students. By listening to both sides, we can better understand what is going on and what needs to be done in certain situations. Think about car accidents and how police officers have to listen to both sides. Police officers have to determine what happened and who is at fault. Sometimes it is not an easy task.
Influences on Perception
All of us don’t perceive the same things. One person might find something beautiful, but another person might think it is horrible. When it comes to our perception, there are four primary influences we should understand: physiological, psychological, social, and cultural.
Some of the reasons why we don’t interpret things, in the same way are due to physiology. Hence, biology has an impact on what we do and do not perceive. In this section, we will discuss the various physiological influences.
- Senses – Our senses can have an impact on what and where we focus our attention. For instance, if you have a strong sense of smell, you might be more sensitive to a foul-smelling odor compared to someone who cannot smell anything due to sinus problems. Our senses give us a different perception of the world.
- Age – Age can impact what we perceive. Have you ever noticed that children have so much energy, and the elderly do not? Children may perceive that there is so much to do in a day, and the elderly may perceive that there is nothing to do. Our age influences how we think about things.
- Health – when we are healthy, we have the stamina and endurance to do many things. However, when we are sick, our bodies may be more inclined to rest. Thus, we will perceive a lot of information differently. For instance, when you are healthy, some of your favorite meals will taste really good, but when you are sick, it might not taste so good, because you cannot smell things due to a stuffy nose.
- Hunger – When you are hungry, it is tough to concentrate on anything except food. Studies have shown that when people are hungry, all they focus on is something to eat.
- Biological cycles – Some people are “morning larks” and some are “night owls.” In other words, there are peaks where people perform at their highest level. For some individuals, it is late at night, and for others, it is early in the morning. When people perform at their peak times, they are likely to be more perceptive of information. If you are a person who loves getting up early, you would probably hate night classes, because you are not able to absorb as much information as you could if the class was in the morning.
Sometimes the influences on perception are not physiological but psychological. These influences include mood and self-concept. These influences are based in our mind, and we can’t detect them in others.
- Mood – Whether we are happy or sad can affect how we view the world. For instance, if we are happy, then anything that happens, we might view it more positively.
- Self-concept – If we have a healthy self-concept of ourselves, we may not be offended if someone makes a negative remark. Yet, if we have a poor self-concept of ourselves, then we are probably going to be more influenced by negative remarks. The stronger our self-concept is, the more likely it will affect how we view perceive other people’s communication behaviors toward us.
Social influences include sex and gender roles, as well as occupational roles. These roles can impact our perceptions. Because we are in these roles, we might be likely to think differently than others in different roles.
- Sex and gender roles – We have certain expectations in our culture regarding how men and women should behave in public. Women are expected to be more nurturing than men. Moreover, men and women are viewed differently concerning their marital status and age.
- Occupational roles – Our jobs have an influence on how we perceive the world. If you were a lawyer, you might be more inclined to take action on civil cases than your average member of the public, because you know how to handle these kinds of situations. Moreover, if you are a nurse or medical specialist, you are more likely to perceive the health of other individuals. You would be able to tell if someone needed urgent medical care or not.
In 2015, Karina J. Lloyd, Diana Boer, Avraham N. Kluger, and Sven C. Voelpel conducted an experiment to examine the relationship between perceived listening trust and wellbeing. In this study, the researchers recruited pairs of strangers. They had one of the participants tell the other about a positive experience in their life for seven minutes (the talker) and one who sat and listened to the story without comment (the listener).
The researchers found that talkers who perceived the listener to be listening intently to be very important for effective communication. First, perceived listening led to a greater sense of social attraction towards the listener, which in turn, led to a greater sense of trust for the listener. Second, talkers who perceived the listener as listening intently felt their messages were clearer, which in turn, led to a greater sense of the talker’s overall wellbeing (positive affect).
As you can see, simply perceiving that the other person is listening intently to you is very important on a number of fronts. For this reason, it’s very important to remember to focus your attention when you’re listening to someone.
Lloyd, K. J., Boer, D., Kluger, A. N., & Voelpel, S. C. (2015). Building trust and feeling well: Examining intraindividual and interpersonal outcomes and underlying mechanisms of listening. International Journal of Listening, 29(1), 12–29. https://doi.org/10.1080/10904018.2014.928211
In a recent meeting, the boss said, “Remember the Golden Rule,” and a coworker from India asked the staff about the meaning of that phrase. He wondered if there was a silver rule or a bronze rule. The reason he didn’t understand this concept is due to cultural influences. We know that everyone doesn’t perceive things in the same fashion.
In some countries, the elderly are highly respected individuals, where the youth go to for advice and wisdom. Yet, in other countries, the elderly are seen as lazy and worthless. Hence, our culture has an impact on how we perceive the world and others. Communication is different across cultures. Western cultures, like the United States, value talk and view it as very important to function and conduct business. Thus, they do not like silence because it can be perceived as shyness, frustration, and intimidating.56 Western culture dislikes silence because it is uncomfortable and problematic. Asian cultures have different perceptions of communication. Silence is seen as valuable to reflect on one’s thinking. Asians might view someone who is talkative very negatively. Based on this example, we can see that cultural perceptions can lead to problems, because, to an American, silence is considered rude and to an Asian, silence is good. To effectively communicate, we need to understand cultural perceptions.
To judge others more accurately, we need to engage in perception checking.
Perception checking involves three steps:
- Describe your perception of the event
- Offer three different interpretations of that behavior
- Seek clarification about the interpretations
- That’s it! I know this sounds easy, but it’s definitely much harder than it looks.
- The different types of listening responses are silent listening, questioning, paraphrasing, empathizing, supporting, analyzing, evaluating, and advising.
- Questioning can be to clarify meanings, encourage elaboration, learn about others, increase discovery, or obtain more information.
- Perception checking involves describing the situation, offering three possible interpretations, and then seeking information.
- Write down an example of each of the listening responses and why it is appropriate for that situation. Why did you write down what you did?
- Create a chart with the different types of questions and give at least two examples for each type. Compare with a friend in class.
- Watch a movie or television show with your friends, then ask them to write down the three most notable moments. Compare what you wrote to others. Was it similar or different? Why or why not? Did you all have the same perceptions? Why?